Disco Balls Put a Bright Spin on Louisville, KY
Some facts about Louisville are very well known.
It’s the home of the Kentucky Derby, of course, held the first Saturday in May since 1875. The Hot Brown is a renowned sandwich that was created at the city’s Brown Hotel in 1926, and baseball fans everywhere know about the Louisville Slugger bat and the museum located in downtown Louisville.
What may be lesser known about the Kentucky city is an acclaim that takes it to another level of uniqueness: Louisville has earned the reputation of being the disco ball capital of the country, at one time turning out 90 percent of the disco balls made in the U.S.
It’s a fact that helps give Louisville its special personality, according to Stacey Yates, vice president of marketing communications for the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Being the home of such iconic things as bourbon, baseball bats and bluegrass,” she says, “[and] to also be the country’s largest producer of disco balls just further complements Louisville’s unique and surprising personality as the city of endless possibility.”
Omega National Products, located in the city’s historic Highlands district, has been manufacturing disco balls long before there was disco. Known more accurately as mirror balls, they are made at the plant where Omega also produces antique mirrors using silvering techniques that have been passed down for generations. The company makes wood cabinets as well at its plant in Elkhart, Ind.
“[Omega] started as a ribbon mirror company,” says Toni Lehring, the company’s customer service manager. “They were contracted back in the ’40s and ’50s to manufacturer art deco furniture. I even have one of the old tables that looks like it’s covered in disco mirrors.”
Within just a few years, Omega started using the silvering process for mirror balls that were sold to dance clubs, roller rinks and similar venues. Some of the earliest ones were actually old world globes that had been retired.
All Kinds of Uses
By the time the disco craze arrived in the 1970s, Omega-produced mirror balls that were spinning all over the country at clubs blaring out the sounds of the Bee Gees and Donna Summer. It was making about 700-800 disco balls a year in the 1990s, and today’s annual count is maybe 200, according to Lehring.
Most of what the company’s Baxter Avenue location produces now are the antique mirrors, used primarily in architectural wall coverings, furniture inlays, hotel bed headboards and framed mirrors.
Even though mass production of disco balls these days is handled mostly at Asian factories, Omega still has plenty of custom orders from its distributors. The company’s glittering spheres have been used by big-name music acts such as Madonna, Pearl Jam, Lenny Kravitz and Kid Rock, among others. One special-made mirror ball was prominent at a pre-Super Bowl party that aired on VH1, and Coca-Cola once ordered a 10-foot disco ball that was shipped to Atlanta for a big promotion.
“The globes that we make last forever,” Lehring says. “They are so well constructed. Someone once called and said he didn’t need new disco balls, that he still had the same 48-inch disco balls he bought in 1968. He just needed new motors.”