Glass History Informational

From the start of time glass has been available to man. Stone Age man used obsidian (a naturally formed glass) for cutting tools and weapons. The Phoenicians also accidentally discovered glass when cooking near nitrates that when heated formed glass. However, we have to wait until the Egyptian times before we can actually trace deliberate glass manufacture which was in the form of beads. In 1500BC, we believe the first glass bottles were made using the “Core-Forming Method”. As far as the early history of glass making in Britain goes, the Romans brought the technology with them. This led to the European-wide spread of glass manufacture.

British history records glass “Manufacture” dating back to the 13th century when “Broad Sheet” glass can be located to the areas around Sussex and Surrey. In the meantime the Venetians had thrived as glassmakers, as their glass became popular due to its brilliance and creative form. By 1330 the French had also developed “Crown Glass”. This took until the 17th century to be produced in England, in London. In England in 1676 George Ravenscroft invented “Lead crystal” by introducing lead oxide to the glass which took on a more brilliant appearance. The 17th century brought a new glass process from France, “Plate glass”, a term still used today. This was a process of pouring molten glass onto a table and then rolled. Once cold, the glass was ground under large grinding disks until optically smooth, making it perfect for mirrors. The French had legislated heavy duties on imported glass products which made it impossible for the Venetians to Export, and also offered generous incentives to any Venetian willing to work for them. By the 18th century this technology was being used in England at Ravenhead, producing the first English Polished Plate.

1834, Robert Lucas Chance introduced “Improved Cylinder Sheet” glass which was produced using a process invented in Germany. This produced even finer and larger glasses. This was the glass used to glaze the “Crystal Palace” in London. Until a change in legislation in 1845 when the “Excise Act” was repealed, glass manufacture was under developed in Britain. Once the heavy tax burdens previously placed on glass manufacture were removed, production grew. By the end of the 19th century glass bottles were being made by machine, increasing production threefold. The now “Chance Bros.” invented “Machine Rolled Patterned Glass”.

By the start of the 20th century, “Owens Glass” in America had further developed bottle manufacture which increased output by 10-fold to some 2,500 bottles per hour. By 1910 the first “Laminates” had been produced by Edouard Benedictus, a Frenchman, who named the process “TripleX.” 1914 saw the start of producing glass by the “Drawn” method. Invented by a Belgian man named Fourcault, glass was drawn vertically from a tank. A further development by Richeroux, another Belgian, was to pour the molted glass from a pot between 2 rollers to give a more even thickness and evenness for polishing.

In 1917 “Sheet Glass” was invented by Colburn in America and developed by “Libby-Owens”, a partnership of Michael Owens of Owens glass and his backer E. D. L. Libby. Further improvements were made by “Pittsburg Plate Glass” or PPG.

By 1923 came the first UK production of continuous polished plate glass using the single grinding system. Closely followed in 1938 by the twin grinding system. And then the float process was launched in the marketplace; invented by Pilkington Bros, and introduced in 1959. The significance of this process is that it produced glass with a brilliant finish and without the need to grind or polish the surface, making mass-produced glass with the qualities of polished glass. This was achieved by floating the molten glass on a bath of molten tin, creating a “glass ribbon”, even in width and thickness. This is still the process used today for the production of what is now termed “Float Glass”.

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June 2021
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