Timeline          Histories          
People Publications Events The Campus Athletics Daily Life




Dr. S. Donald Stookey

Corning Ware is one of the many things we take for granted in our lives.  Most people don’t know that Corning Ware was invented by Dr. S. Donald Stookey, a graduate of Coe College.

Dr. S. Donald Stookey is a Magna Cum Laude  graduate from Coe in 1936.  After graduating from Coe he went on to earn his Master’s degree from Lafayette College and then his Doctorate in Physical Chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1940 he joined the research staff of Corning Class Works in Corning, New York.  While working for Corning Class Works, Stookey developed a remarkable glass that would forever change cooking.  This glass is known as Corning Ware.  This glass allows you to bake a casserole and freeze the leftovers in the same dish.  Corning Ware is also used for making all sorts of dish ware and for making stove tops.

Besides Corning Ware, Stookey has developed numerous  types of glass.  He invented a heat resistant glass used in missile nose cones.  He also invented opal glass, photo-sensitive glass, and photo-chromic glass that darkens in sunlight.  Even the United Nations building benefits from his glass inventions.  The north wall of the UN building is made from photo-sensitive opal glass.  The glass was made in a translucent marble pattern so that in the daylight it matches the building’s marble columns.

Stookey's research has not gone unrewarded.  He has been the recipient of just about every award in his field.  Prior to 1975 he had already earned 44 patents.  In 1986, a retired Stookey earned a National Medal of Technology in recognition for his inventions of Pyroceram glass-ceramics, opal glass, and photo-sensitive glass.   He has received the Coe College Alumni Award of Merit, an honorary Doctor of Science degree, and is an alumni member of Coe’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter.

The glass industry and the world will continue to benefit from Dr. S. Donald Stookey's glass research and his inventions for years to come.



Information from "Profiles in Ceramics: S. Donald Stookey" by Kathy L. Woodard in The American Ceramic Society Bulletin (March 2000), 34-39.


Image of looking at the nature of a crystal ball rather just looking through a ball to see into the future.  That’s what Stookey has done.

Wrote or co-authored nearly 30 papers from ‘39 to ‘80.  More than 60 patents held by him or jointly with others.  His autobiography: “Journey to the Center of the Crystal Ball” was published by the American Ceramic Society in ‘85.

Eldest of four children; born on 23 May ‘15 in Hay Springs, Neb. To Stanley and Hermie Stookey.  On mother’s side, family roots back to first governor of Plymouth colony.

Economic problems; family moves to Cedar Rapids when Stookey is six years old.  His grandfather, Stephen Stookey, professor of botany and geology at Coe.  Father sold real estate but never earned much money.  Father an avid and skilled outdoorsman.  “He was always impressed, and perhaps somewhat intimidated, by his grandfather.  ‘He was the typical red-headed, hot-tempered man.  He was dean of the college, taught geology and botany, and I had a lot of respect for him.  I was impressed by how much he enjoyed family picnics because he knew all about the rocks and plants.”  Stookey regretted that he never took a class from his grandfather, who retired at the end of Donald’s freshman year.  “I was afraid to take his geology course, which I later regretted.  But I was afraid he would be too tough or too easy.”  But influenced by his grandfather to work in education.  “In 1931, armed with a small $100 a semester scholarship and supported by his own wages spent working at the college, painting and washing walls during the summer, Stookey sailed through the next four years at Coe College, graduating magna cum laude with a liberal arts degree in 1936.”  Major in chemistry, one of his toughest courses. 

     In 1937-38 he was at Lafayette College for one year, earning a master’s.  He then went to MIT, worked hard, and earned a doctorate in physical chemistry in 1940.  Very little money.  He was offered a job at Corning Glass Works, though he knew little about glass.  “‘Glass chemistry research had barely started.  My main objective was to be a pioneer, discover new things, produce things that had never been seen before.  I was lucky enough to have that happen.’”

     “‘I am most proud of opening up a whole new field of science–the nucleation of crystallization of glass–that produced all kinds of new crystalline products with so many different useful properties.’”

     FotoForm® glass - one of his earliest major innovations.  “It was a significant realization of how glass could be photochemically etched into precise and detailed structures.”  Still used in computer and communications technology.  While doing further experiments, some FotoForm glass was mistakenly heated to 9000 C; new crystalline material was harder, stronger and higher in electrical resistivity.  The result was the first glass-ceramic, Fotoceram®.  “He suddenly realized that, in theory at least, all glass compositions could be altered to polycrystalline ceramics by a nucleation and reheating process.”  Thus the development of a glass-ceramic that could be used in nose cones of supersonic radomes in guided missiles.

     Another major invention, Corning-Ware® was first marketed in 1958, only one year after Stookey’s discovery.  This would in turn lead to the development of VisionWare® transparent cookware, patented in ‘66.

     Working with William Armistead at Corning, Stookey helped discover photochronic glass, used to make ophthalmic lenses that darken and fade with the environment, first introduced over 30 years ago.

     Some of Stookey’s favorite projects have so far never attained commercial viability, “including photosensitive gold and polychromatic glasses in which permanent, beautifully colored photographs can be produced.”

     On working with Armistead at Corning: “it was a ‘good opportunity for me to continuously discover things that had never been seen before, to develop a new field of high-temperature chemistry in glass, and to produce beautiful products.’”


Married Ruth in 1940.  3 children, six grandchildren.  Both wife and daughter have died.

Loved the outdoors.  Had a cabin cruiser for 30 years; have fished all over the world.

Ruth had a B.A. in mathematics; taught math & history of 1 ½ years before marriage in 1940.


Other sources of info:


From Corning press release (‘82): “Throughout his 42-year association with Corning, Dr. Stookey has concentrated primarily on the development of new glass compositions and processes.  These include Pyroceram brand glass ceramics, thermometer opal glasses, photosensitive glasses, photochromic glass, hydrosilicate glasses and hydroceramics, and full-color polychromatic photosensitive glasses.


From a ltr by Stookey to Pres. Nussbaum after visit on campus: “Perhaps the most surprising change from my day to this was the evident cameraderie [sic] and confidence and friendship between the science students and faculty.  In the old days the buildings were old and gloomy, we students stood in fear and awe of the science profs.  I was glad to see that an active interest exists in making students aware of career possibilities in industry, as well as in academia and medicine.”


Received Coe’s Founders’ Medal in 1980, Coe’s highest honor for individuals of international reputation.  Only two previous recipients: Shirer & Engle.  Stookey received his at the same time as Dr. F. Gaynor Evans (‘31), Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Anatomy, University of Michigan Medical School.


Memo by Nussbaum written after a visit with Stookey at his home in NY.  Evident that Stookey was really pleased with the award.  Said he enjoyed playing pool, though he has a handicap: almost total blindness in an eye since age 3.  “He is shy, socially reticent, and to a large extent self-effacing.  While he has in sequence owned several expensive yachts–all sold now–his standard of living and house as well as furnishings belie his affluent salary.”


Donald graduated from Coe in ‘36, having done an honors thesis with Ben Peterson; his brother David graduated in ‘37 with honors in oratory and debate and went on to law school at Cornell.  Donald graduated from M.I.T in June 1940, 5 days after his brother completed his law degree.


From a newspaper article in alumni files: no date: “Shortly after Dr. Stookey developed the [photosensitive] glass, the treasury department, which then was looking for wartime substitutes for metal coins, inspected samples of photographic glass coins, and was prepared to authorize their manufacture. ¶ The enormous quantities of coins immediately required was beyond Corning’s capacity, however, so glass money was not produced.”


Notes from “The Fabulous Glass Child” by John Lear in the Saturday Review (1 June ‘57)

Describes a scene when this new glass product, pyroceram, very hot, is used for hammering a nail.  Characteristics of pyroceram: harder than steel, light as aluminum, strong than stainless steel, softening temperature close to the melting point of iron, can hold a weight of 40,000 pounds per square inch, resists corrosion by powerful acids, purity of electrical insulation (through it one can “transmit ultra-high-frequency radio signals with flawless accuracy in all directions equally.”

     Lear describes the process that was followed as Stookey attempted to answer a question that had been posed to him by one of his co-workers at Corning: “How do you drill a million holes in a one inch square of glass.”  The question involved the development of a new tv screen.  Stookey had already developed a technique for making glass pictures.  He new “there was a physical difference between the crystalline and non-crystalline areas; they had different densities; they expanded and contracted to different degrees when they were heated; perhaps there was a chemical difference, too.  Dr. Stookey turned to the acid bottles on his laboratory shelf.  He tried hydrofluoric.  It dissolved the crystals 100,000 times faster than the unexposed glass.  There were the holes Dr. Littleton wanted!  All that was need to drill them was a photographic plate with thousands of dots side by side.  Expose the plate to the light, and pour on the acid!

     “Then came the accident.  A piece of this photo-formed stuff (which by coincidence is called fotoform) was left in the laboratory oven too long one night in 1949.  The oven heat was turned up 300 degrees higher than it should have been–to 900 degrees C. instead of 600 degrees C.  Dr. Stookey was annoyed, as any scientist is when such things happen.  He grabbed the overbaked specimen impatiently, and it fell to the floor.  Dr. Stookey watched it go, and graced himself for the shatter.  But the stuff only bounced a little when it hit.

     “Why didn’t it break?  Dr. Stookey didn’t sleep well that night.  ‘I guess I was too ashamed to write a report,’ he says now.  ‘It was a bad job.’  But why didn’t the stuff break?

     “Instead of merely wondering, without knowing exactly how long the baking had lasted or at what temperatures during what periods of time, he began a meticulous series of repetitions of the accident under one set of conditions after another.”  He discovered that he had a new crystalline substance, “starting with glass but sowing within it billions of crystals, he was able to so manipulate two supposedly simple processes of heating and cooling as to end with a complete and total contradiction of the very meaning of glass.”

     Corning has at least a thousand different formulae for pyrocerams.  Most are opaque but some are transparent; they look exactly like glass but crystals are so small that they reflect no light.  Stookey studying the “kinetics of crystal growth in liquids.  “Through years of patient experiment, he has learned how to initiate crystal nucleation at will, to control the number of crystals, to stop the growth whenever he wishes from the instant it begins with single atoms.”  This free, original research was possible because of Corning’s support of such research.  Stookey reflects: “We aren’t prima donnas, but the company does excuse us from worrying about daily production problems.”


Article by Stookey in the C & EN (19 June ‘61) explains the pyroceram process; indicates that Corning Ware is the cooking ware version of this product.

Position at Corning: Director of Fundamental Research


From The Glass Industry, Jan ‘64:  Stookey’s first work at Corning was with opal glass.  His first assignment: to build a furnace with an optical system for determining the temperatures at which opal glass crystallizes.  Stookey described himself as “starting out completely ignorant of glass in every way.”  But he had curiosity, and a methodical habit of sticking with problems until they were solved.  As he worked he realized that glass “‘is probably the most perfect material for studying the beginning of crystallization and the formation of the smallest aggregates of atoms.

“He is perhaps most proud of the photosensitive opal glass in the north wall of the UN building, made in a translucent marble pattern so that the outside matches the marble columns in the daylight.”


“During the early years of World War II, there was such a shortage of copper for making pennies that a substitute was in order.  There was serious talk at the time about photosensitive glass discs having the same diameter as pennies, but a little thicker.  The profile of Lincoln would have appeared within the glass in copper ruby color; the perimeter would have been transparent.  The idea was scrapped–each penny would have cost 25 cents.  Zinc was used instead.

Co-worker Harrison Hood describing Stookey: “Stookey is an excellent research man with a breadth of interest for delving into many unusual things–such as the behavior of glasses with unusual compositions.  He has a high research intuition, a feeling for what is apt to be significant, a knack for knowing where to look. . . . he has proven that he can run onto more things with few experiments, than most men can with many experiments.”

     “When Stookey worked with me, it was a case of playing basketball with ideas.  I would catch the ball from him and then toss it back to him, and he would carry it through to accomplishment.”


Coe Awards: 

1955 - Distinguished Alumni Award; given by Ben Peterson who refers to Stookey as “one of my own Boys”

1963 - Honorary Doctorate


Honors and Milestones for Stookey

1950 - First of 58 U.S. Patents, #2.515.937 for “photosensitive Gold Glass and Method of Making It”

1953 - John Price Wetherill Award, Franklin Institute (awarded again in 1962)

1960 - Ross Coffin Purdy Award, American Ceramic Society

1964 - Toledo Glass and Ceramic Award

1970 - Inventor of the Year, George Washington University

1975 - Phoenix Award of the Glass Industry

1986 - Recipient from President Reagan of a National Medal of Science and Technology


  Home Coe College Contact Us  

Copyright 2006
Coe College
1220 1st Avenue NE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52402