John Baptiste Ford

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Captain John Baptiste Ford (November 17, 1811 – May 1, 1903) was an American industrialist and founder of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, now known as PPG Industries, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States.

Early life[edit]

Born in a log cabin in Danville, Kentucky, he never remembered his father, Jonathan Ford, who in 1813 joined the Kentucky Volunteer Homespun regiment to fight the British forces at New Orleans in the War of 1812 and never returned. His mother, Margaret, the daughter of Jean Baptiste, an immigrant from France who had fought in the American Revolutionary War, apprenticed young John at the age of 12 to a Danville saddlemaker. He ran away from the saddlemaker at age 14 and found his freedom in Greenville, Indiana, where he remained for the next 30 years. There in 1831 he married Mary Bower, a farm girl who taught him to read and write.

Business success[edit]

The couple opened a small dry goods store, then a saddlery shop and a flour mill. The Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 presented a golden opportunity to Ford, who won a large contract to supply the United States Cavalry. His success, and his vision of the importance of the Ohio River in opening up the vast country west of the Mississippi River, drove Ford to build a boatworks at New Albany, Indiana. Its success earned him the appellation of "Captain" Ford.

Next he entered the Iron business. The American Civil War provided him the next business windfall as he supplied the Union forces. Ford's son Emory graduated in July 1864 from Duff's Mercantile College upriver in Pittsburgh. Emory marveled at the many glass works in the city, and soon his father opened a glass firm back in New Jersey. They expanded, eventually, into plate glass operations, something that had been largely a European endeavor. In the 1883 Ford and sons organized a new company in the nation's booming industrial center, Pittsburgh, which became the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company.

By 1897 the Fords, tired of disagreements with their business partners, sold their shares in PPG and formed a new venture to the west near Toledo, Ohio, the Ford Glass Company. It later became Libbey Owens Ford Glass Company. At one time he was in business with his first cousin, Washington Charles De Pauw.


John Ford died at his home in Tarentum, Pennsylvania in 1903. He is buried in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh. The town of Ford City, Pennsylvania, is named in his honor.

See also[edit]


  • Aiken, William Earl (1957). The Roots Grow Deep: The Story of Captain Ford. Cleveland: The Lezius-Hiles Company. ISBN none. 
  • Pound, Arthur (1940). Salt of the Earth: The Story of Captain J. B. Ford and Michigan Alkali Company. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Company. ISBN none. 

External links[edit]