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10 Things You Didn't Know About Corning Incorporated

By Steve Symington – Apr 15, 2017 at 12:00PM

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Corning's innovative roots go deeper than you may think.

It's been a great year for Corning (GLW -1.52%) investors. Shares of the glass technologist have climbed nearly 30% since last April, including an 8% rise so far in 2017 on the heels of its solid fourth-quarter report in January.

But it's about that time again; Corning is set to release its first-quarter 2017 results later this month. In the meantime, I think now is a perfect opportunity to dig in and get to know Corning a little better, from its storied history to what shareholders can expect going forward. So read on for 10 surprising things you may not have known about this intriguing tech juggernaut.

Corning scientists testing panels of Gorilla Glass

Corning scientists testing Gorilla Glass. IMAGE SOURCE: CORNING INCORPORATED

1. Corning invented the world's first commercially viable low-loss optical fiber in 1970. In doing so, it effectively pioneered the backbone of the high-speed, connected world we know today, with telecommunications companies regularly touting their fiber networks with hundreds of thousands of miles of fiber optic cable.

2. But Corning's innovative roots reach much further back than that. The company was founded 166 years ago in 1851 as Corning Glass Works.

3. Corning played a crucial role in the world's space travel and exploration. Its proprietary high-purity fused silica has formed the windows for all of the manned spacecraft in U.S. history, as well as for the International Space Station. Corning also created mirrors for the Hubble, Gemini, and Subaru telescopes.

4. Corning has an eye on the future of the lighting industry through a partnership with OLEDWorks formed in 2015, using its flexible Willow Glass as a hermetic barrier and integrated substrate in OLED lighting panels. Using the same OLED technology found in millions of smartphones today, OLED lighting is energy-efficient, cool to the touch, and distributes beautiful, even light. They're also paper-thin and flexible and so can be made in a variety of form factors. 

5. Corning was the world's first manufacturer to form specialty glass suspended in midair using its proprietary "fusion" process starting in the 1960s, creating perfectly flat, uniform glass panels that are able to withstand heat-intensive processes such as application of LCD circuitry. Corning's entire flat-glass portfolio is made using the fusion process, including Gorilla Glass, Willow Glass, EAGLE XG Slim, Lotus Glass, and Iris Glass.

Having trouble visualizing how this might work? Have a look:

6. Gorilla Glass isn't just for smartphones anymore. Sure, Corning's popular Gorilla Glass product is the protective cover glass of choice found on over 4.5 billion devices worldwide. But Corning also recently unveiled variants of Gorilla Glass suited for both interior architecture and automotive applications. From "smart walls" with which guests can interact in a lobby, to lightweight, ultra-durable windshields and sleek glass-covered dashboards, Gorilla Glass will almost certainly grow to be an even more ubiquitous part of our lives.

7. Corning has set the standard for emissions control in gasoline and diesel engines and vehicles since the early 1970s, producing more than 1.5 billion ceramic substrates in that time. To date, Corning has invested over $2 billion in its clean-air business.

8. Saving lives in the lab. Through its invention of Pyrex glass in 1915, Corning played a key role enabling the early production and distribution of medicines including penicillin and the polio vaccine. Today, Corning's Life Sciences segment offers a wide portfolio of glass products enabling everything from pharmaceutical packaging to drug discovery, DNA research, and bioprocessing.

9. Corning's largest segment today is Display Technologies, which is primarily driven by LCD glass substrate sales. Display Technologies generated around $904 million in revenue last quarter, and core earnings of $274 million -- or just over 35% of Corning's total sales and nearly 52% of total core earnings.

10. Corning is on track to return over $12.5 billion to shareholders in dividends and share repurchases through 2019 as part of its strategic capital allocation framework unveiled in October 2015. At the same time, Corning has pledged to invest $10 billion in its business through research, development, and engineering, in order to ensure it maintains its industry leadership and innovative roots. If both this framework and Corning's impressive past are any indication, the company should continue to positively shape our world for the foreseeable future.

Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Corning. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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