Anthropology - Other

The History of Glass Making

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"The History of Glass Making"
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Even though natural glass, (mainly obsidian or fulgerites, used for shaping the workable edges into knives or arrowheads), was known from the time of Stone Age man, the first man-made glass appeared in Egypt and Mesopotamia about 3,500B.C. This took the form of non-transparent glass beads. Then followed the practice of glass glazes on pots and vases. Finally, manufactured glass began when, in Egypt and Mesopotamia, craftsmen produced moulded or cast iron vessels in the Late Bronze Age.

Until the invention of the blow pipe, in about 30B.C. in Syro-Palestine, glass objects from Egypt and Mesopotamia, were prized as gold. Only rich priests and upper class citizens could afford them. But the use of the blow pipe marked a change. Man began to reduce crushed quartzite to molten liquid, cooled it, then blew it into a wide range of hollowed shapes. Glass production was faster and cheaper. Glass could be afforded by all.

As Syro-Palestine was a part of the Roman Empire, so the Empire became the hub of glass making. Transparent glass, layers of coloured glass, painted glass and gilding (the application of gold leaf) were all part of the glassmaker's craft. What has become known as the Portland vase, with intricate, high relief designs on coloured glass, is from this era.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, in the 5th century A.D. glass making was only prominent in Iran, Iraq and Egypt. It would not be a popular skill in Europe until the 1200's, when stained glass windows were in demand for monasteries and cathedrals. Bohemia, Venice and Germany became important "boutique" glass making areas. It became so large an industry in Venice, that the production was transferred out of the city area onto the island of Murano. Glass making did not develop in England until the 1500's. However, in 1674, English glass reached new heights. George Ravenscroft patented the making of glass with lead oxide. This became the sparkling brilliance of lead crystal. Lead glass, being softer and easier to cut, became invaluable for fine, optical instruments.

France, in 1688, can claim the development of plate glass for mirrors. Once the molten glass is poured and flattened on a special purpose table, it was polished, then coated on one side with a reflective metal.

By the 1800's, the glass in greatest demand was "crown glass" or window glass. This was closely followed by glass for whiskey and medicine bottles and tableware. By 1880, glass containers were being used for commercial foods and natural gas replaced coal as the preferred fuel for melting glass. Also in the 1800's, in America, a particular style of glass was developed known as "sandwich glass". It featured complex, lacy designs and was available in low price ranges.

By the 20th century, glass in many forms was a basic household and industrial commodity. Glass making became a huge business enterprise, with companies forming branches across the world. For example, the Pilkington Group claims to have the widest global connections. It was founded in 1826 in England, and employs over 23,000 people world-wide. In Australia alone, Pilkington employs over 1600 people to manufacture and market flat glass for the building and automotive industries. The company invented the float glass making process in 1952.

Glass collection centres for recycling emerged world-wide in the 1960's. The glass is broken, melted with silica sand, limestone, and soda ash to make new glass objects.

New forms of glass were developed in the 1970's. Optical fibres were developed to transmit intense, brilliant light over long distances. And there was now glass specially made for storage of radioactive waste. By the 1980's, glass ceramics were developed for directly heated cookware. Night vision goggles appeared, using an infra-red transmitting glass known as chalcogenide glass.

Over time, glass has developed both as an artistic, desirable luxury and a commercial and industrial necessity. Glass may be priceless, such as many artistic designs of lead crystal, or basic "price accessible" in bottled grocery items. Glass has become a vital ingredient in our lifestyle.


More about this author: Gemma Wiseman

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