Tommy Nagle is a proud fourth-generation glass maker.
Now the plant manager of the Owens-Illinois Streator glass container factory, which is more than 100 years old, he keeps a reminder of his lineage within sight of his desk.
A framed copy of the Streator Line O’Nine newspaper, a weekly employee newspaper that Owens-Illinois published as a way to keep its more than 2,500 employees up to date with the factory’s news, is displayed in his office. That Friday, March 18, 1949, edition is special to him, because it features his grandfather Ervin Plimmer, a 37-year glass maker who worked in the mold repair department.
“That’s been a huge inspiration to me,” Nagle said. “I can remember growing up, my grandfather wouldn’t let us buy in plastic. Everything had to be glass, glass, glass.”
“I care about this place and what it means. I will do everything I can to make it successful.”— Tommy Nagle, plant manager at Streator Owens-Illinois
Promoted Nov. 1, Nagle is the first Streator native to lead the plant in more than 50 years. That pride, he said, has been an asset at a critical time for the factory.
“I care about this place and what it means,” Nagle said. “I will do everything I can to make it successful.”
Nagle’s rise to plant manager was a quick one. After working as a builder of cellular phone towers, he first was hired to the company eight years ago as a cart assembler. He then moved to the maintenance department taking on an apprenticeship, moving into supervision and management. After a fire at the plant, he was instrumental in helping get things back to order, garnering the attention of leadership. He soon worked his way to assistant plant manager and was developed to be manager.
No more than a year before taking the plant manager post, Nagle saw the plant shut down a furnace and go from 320 to 160 employees.
O-I is a Fortune 500 company with more than 24,000 employees at 69 different plants across 19 countries. Until recently, Streator’s factory still was adapting techniques from making Miller beer bottles years ago to more challenging spirits bottles, such as Jim Beam and Tito’s.
Nagle was happy to report Streator had the most improved factory across the company in 2023. It went from losing $16 million to a pace of finishing $5 million in the black. He credits the change to workers who carry a similar pride as he does everyday.
“There’s a lot of people here who have the same story as me,” Nagle said. “They’ve either been here decades, or their family has worked at the factory. They have a lot of passion for what they do.”
Nagle, who is not far removed from working on the plant floor, said his approach is to be transparent about the challenges the factory faces and to tap into the pride the workers have for the factory and its history in the community. O-I has been either Streator’s leading employer, or one if its leading employers for more than a century, and along with the former (Thatcher’s) Anchor Glass factory, together earned the city the moniker as “The Glass Container Capital of the World.”
This summer, Nagle said the factory hosted a summer picnic for employees and their families, has sponsored local sports teams and workers recently participated in Streator’s Lighted Christmas parade. The factory also did some upkeep of it surroundings, including the installation of a new sign.
“We’re trying to integrate back into the community,” Nagle said.
Streator Mayor Tara Bedei said Owens-Illinois has been a big part of Streator’s history. It has provided thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs that have gone on to help the city’s economy, whether it be to raise families, buy homes or spend money within other businesses in town.
“I remember the ‘glass container capital of the world’ signs on Route 23, I always remember that as a kid,” Bedei said “If you were my age, you had an uncle or aunt or grandparent or someone in your family that worked at Owens or Thatcher’s, that was part of life. So many people worked summer jobs at the glass plants, and that helped them pay for certain things. There’s so much importance of having those jobs, and how many people have gone to college off that, retired from having that income. It’s very important. There was a time that if you were born and raised here, you at some point were employed by them or knew someone that was.”
Bedei said it is a positive to see someone who is connected to Streator leading the factory.
“When you’re from here and living here, it’s a different perspective being from Streator and being in charge of it than being from elsewhere,” Bedei said. “Those ties may make you believe a little harder or try a little harder. It’s not just a job, because so many other things are connected to it.”
Nagle has invited city leaders to the plant and they’ve discussed ways the factory and city can partner together. Nagle met with City Manager David Plyman, City Engineer Jeremy Palm and Building Inspector Joe Scarbeary, who has ties to Owens.
Owens-Illinois has put plans in place for maintenance of the factory’s furnace in 2024 and a repair in 2025, which is a sign Nagle said things are on the upswing.
“At our latest managers meeting (within the company), one of the first things they said was how well Streator is doing,” Nagle said. “We’re getting their attention. We have the most resilient people in the world working here. Everyone is asking what are we doing. How are we doing it? What’s our story?”
Nagle knows his story, being a fourth generation bottle maker. The newspaper in his office is just the beginning. When he sits down to talk to his staff, fellow management or members of the community, he is excited about what’s next for the plant.
“I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished here,” Nagle said. “It’s just a testament to Streator and its workers. That’s the story I want to tell.”