Along Highway 395 on the northwestern end of Owens Dry Lake bed, stands the abandoned Pittsburgh Plate Glass Plant. At one time, these large sheds and silos hummed with activity, as they mined and processed minerals from Owens dry lake bed. The significance of these minerals goes back to 3500 BC, when the Egyptians first began using it in their glass making. Soda Ash is a necessary and critical commodity for industry, and with the Industrial Revolution in full swing it became important for the United States to find reliable sources. When Owens Lake was surveyed back in 1875, Dr. Oscar Loew of the Wheeler Survey estimated that the deposit contained at least 20 million tons of dissolve sodium carbonate, enough to supply the United States for about 100 years. At that time the lake was 17 miles long by 9 miles wide (110 square miles), and its greatest depth was recorded at 51 feet. By 1900, annual capacity from the mining came to 10,000 tons and employed around 150 workers during the harvesting season of the evaporation pools.
Then in 1914, the demand for water in Los Angeles prompted the construction of the Los Angeles aqueduct. This hastened the drying up of the lake waters, and concentrated the level of the sodium carbonate. In the next few decades, several more soda ash companies built plants along the shores of Owens Lake. Even with that, the production of natural soda ash from Owens Lake could not keep up with the increasing domestic demand caused by World War II and the Korean War. So other sources had to be found, and beginning around 1950, competition from those sources drove all the Owens Lake Plants out of business. The last plant to produce refined soda ash at Owens Lake was the Pittsburgh Plate Glass facility which closed in 1968.