The unnerving noise emanating from the Steuben Glass warehouse was the sound of thousands of pieces of glassware being smashed to smithereens. But the glassware massacre was neither accidental nor malicious. It was a symbolic gesture by Steuben president Arthur Houghton Jr. The executive, then age 27, was the scion of the family that had built Corning Glass Works, which owned Steuben. The struggling subsidiary made ornate colored-glass tableware and decorative items. By 1933 the eccentric executive sought a break with the past, quite literally. One Sunday he and a vice-president shattered vases, stemware, and plates on the cold warehouse floor. Thereafter, Houghton informed his workers, Steuben would favor a sleek and higher-margin aesthetic. No worker could claim ignorance of the business's new agenda.

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