The complex nature of glass has intrigued man from ancient times. For one, its physical structure does not conform to liquid, solid or gas – it’s actually more of a liquid than the solid it appears to be.
The first reference to glass comes from Roman historian Pliny in 77AD who suggested man first produced glass accidentally in 5000BC when sailors on a beach put their cooking pots on blocks of soda instead of rocks and as the fires heated up, the sand and soda combined turned into molten glass.
Ornamental glass beads dating from 2500 B.C. have been found in Egypt, and glass rods from even earlier have been uncovered in Babylon.
As with many innovations, it was the Egyptians who turned their to hand to practical application of materials rather than just decorative and using metal rods attached to silica paste cores dipped in molten glass, produced the first bottles.
The discovery came that molten glass could be blown into shapes. and glass vessels suddenly became easy and inexpensive to produce.
The Romans took this one stage further and with the help of Syrian and Babylonian glassmakers started to produce small bowls, bottles and cups.
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, developments in glass slowed right down and some say, it even almost disappeared with the exception of some Gothic cathedrals boasting highly expensive and extravagant coloured glasses.
Glassmaking started to enjoy a revival in Venice with the development of soda-lime. The news of this new thin glass ‘cristallo’ soon spread across the Alps to Germany, England, France and Belgium.
In about 1675, the English learned to add lead oxide to the basic glass formula, and the resulting solid, heavy and durable vessels progressively replaced the fragile glasses of Venice.
Flat glass for windows was still rare during much of the 17th and 18th centuries. Small panes were made by blowing a large glob of glass, removing it from the blowing iron and then rotating the glass quickly so it would spread and flatten. Such glass had a dimple in its center, many air bubbles and a pattern of concentric circles, but it was transparent and effective in keeping out the weather. At the end of the 17th century, the French learned how to grind and polish cast glass to produce plate glass, but only the rich could afford it.
Suddenly glass technology exploded. A hand operated mold negated the need for blowing individual bottles and a semi-automatic bottle machine perfected in the middle of the century began the process of mass production.
Flat glass was coming of age with the introduction of compressed air technology and large relatively cost effective glass lites began to be produced. By the 1860s, glass-enclosed “wind eyes” became commonplace in the humblest homes. Plate glass also became popular, and with the addition of water power, grinding and polishing of heavy glass plates became faster and easier. By the 1860s, glass became commonplace in the architecture of Europe and North American commercial buildings.
With the 20th century came an era of technology and automation for mass production to continuously churn out sheet glass (used for windows) that could easily be polished and ground simultaneously on both sides to produce float glass on beds of molten tin.
These developments continue with huge advances in processing for different colours, thermal efficiencies and strength, and all go into the next generation windows with which we’re familiar today.
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