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An Interesting History of Glass

The impact that glass has had on human lives cannot be understated. From the day the first one was invented to the modern days, glass continues to service our needs through many forms, from packaging to construction, to the automobile industry and so many other vital applications. However, not so many people are aware of the long and deep history of glass making or how it came to be. We are going to delve into the history of glass making and follow its story through the years. We will look at the many ways that glass has transformed the lives of human beings and its role in civilization. If you have always wondered how glass came to be in the first place, then you are in the right place.

How Glass Started Out

Before man figured out how to make glass, people came across naturally occurring glass in the past, and this was mainly in the form of obsidian, and that was how they were introduced to glass and what it could do. The first form of obsidian was mainly used to furnish weapons and other sharp tools, but the allure of having a clear and transparent material was too much for man to not pursue.

But it wasn’t until 5000 BC when the first supposed form of man-made glass was made by the Phoenician merchants. That is still in dispute as there’s no outright evidence that links the first glass ever made to the Phoenicians; however, the earliest form that has enough evidence dates back to 3500 BC and was made in Egypt and Eastern Mesopotamia. It took another 2000 years for the first glass vessels to be constructed in 1500 BC in the same region.

Once it became known that glass could be made, it was only a matter of time before the practice picked like wildfire across the civilized world. At some point, the production of glass declined as its application was not yet figured out outside the fact that it was just a magnificent item that made people amazed. The production, later on, picked up in Egypt and Syria, and by 500 BC, these two locations became the hub of glass production in the world.

Early Manufacturing

The first time glass making started being viewed as a commercial enterprise was in the 1st century BC in Syria. Back then, the process was not that refined, and it took a lot of time since the expertise was not that locked down. Glass melting furnaces were much smaller, and what was being used was very limited, barely enough to melt the glass properly. This led to faulty products that were deformed or too brittle to hold anything.

However, progress started taking shape in the form of the blowpipe, which was invented by the Syrians. This became a revolutionary development that made production much easier and faster, and it was only a matter of time before it quickly spread to the Roman empire, where it took on a new life of its own. By 1000AD, Alexandria, a city in Egypt, had become the most prominent center of glass production, and a good percentage of glass that was found in other parts of the known world could trace its origins back to Alexandria.

This is how the famous stained glass that has become the hallmark of the early buildings like churches came into existence. They were all part of the early glass-making industry that had its roots deep in the Egyptian heartland of Alexandria. To this day, those buildings are considered to be heritage sites and are protected at all costs. Most of the glass that was made back then still exists in good condition.

Modern Manufacturing of Glass

Once industrialization took root, the number of glass bottle manufacturing companies exploded on all fronts across Europe and North America. One of the industries that received the biggest boost was glass making. At this point, all forms of manufacturing plants had popped up, and there was a need for a safe and convenient way of packaging things, especially perishable foods.

By the time the age of the crusade came around, the center of glassmaking in the world had shifted to the city of Venice, on the island of Murano, to be specific. There, a man called Angelo Barovier created quite a reputation for himself by being a master craftsman who was first credited with the creation of almost colorless and transparent glass.

Until then, glass used to come in all types of colors depending on the raw materials used in the base. But now, there was a technique to make the glass come out clear as day. This opened up new possibilities of what could be done. This was the birth of the famous Venetian glass blowing process that quickly spread across Europe.

This continued on to 1575  where English glassmakers started naming variations to the Venetian process, and eventually, in 1674, George Ravenscroft finally invented lead glass. By 1608, the first commercial glass-making factory was established in the United States in Jamestown, Virginia.

Real change finally came knocking after 1890 where the production of glass really picked up as it had become cheaper, thanks to mass production. Now anyone could afford to have glassware in their houses, and at the same time, people finally started to find ways of making containers out of glass for domestic and commercial uses, and that was what became the game-changer.

Now there was the widespread use of machinery in glass production, and there was a continuous flow, and this increased the quality of the glass products that were being made by the many factories that had sprouted up. 1902 saw the mass production of sheet glass join the fray, thanks to the inventions of Irvin Colburn. 1904 is another year that saw the first patent for an automatic glass bottle blowing machine that was invented by Michael Owens, an American engineer.

1959 saw the first float glass production that was made by Sir Alastair Pilkington. This princess became so popular and very convenient that it is still used for 90% of glass making in the modern world. The process continues to be used to this day due to the reliability and the ease of manipulating raw materials in a controlled environment. 

Over the years, glass making has undergone a lot of changes, and with the advent of technology and automation, the quality of glass materials has gone up drastically, and the varieties have also increased. There’s also the recycling bit that has greatly improved, and many glass manufacturers are embracing sustainability in all their processes in order to create a world where the resources for making glass don’t get depleted for the sake of profits.

The future of glassmaking continues to look brighter by the day since the demand for glass products continues to skyrocket every year. Manufacturing companies around the world are stepping up their efforts to meet this demand as soon as they can.

Glass Making Process

Glass making has come a long way, and there are a number of variations to the process that have already been invented over the years. However, there are creative aspects to the dress that still borrows heavily from the traditional methods. The following is a quick review of the main steps that it takes to make glass.

● Melting and Refining: The first process is to deal with the raw materials, and this comes in the form of regular sand. Silica, sodium oxide, soda ash, calcium oxide, feldspar, limestone, and dolomite are then added to the sand in certain proportions, and the entire mixture is fed into a furnace that is then heated to a staggering 1500 degrees Celsius. If color would be needed down the road, this is the part where the color elements are added.

● Float Bath: The molten materials from the furnace are made to flow into a float bath that has a mirror-like surface that is made using molten tin. This material is injected into the bath at 1500 degrees Celsius, rests for a while, and is let out at about 650 degrees Celsius. The shape of the final material that exits the float bath comes out in the form of a ribbon.

● Coating: To give glass its signature reflective surface, another process that involves coating the entire surface takes place. The main purpose of this process is to help the final product have the ability to deflect heat and keep the inside cooler.

● Annealing: This is a process that helps remove the internal stress that builds up in glass from all the eating and cooling that happens from the first process. It is done by allowing a glass ribbon to pass through special layers that eliminate all the pent-up stress on the glass surface. Without annealing, the glass would immediately shatter on impact or even a slight touch.

● Inspection: After annealing, the project has to undergo a rigorous inspection routine that is aimed at establishing how good the final product will be. This is usually done by inspection machines that are able to detect any cracks and fissures that may have escaped the human eye—the inspection also looks for air bubbles that may have been trapped as they are a cause of concern. There are also grains of sand that escaped melting. All these tests have to bring back a clean bill of health for the entire process to be certified a success.

● Packaging and Branding: Once everything has passed the test, the last part of the entire process is packaging and branding. Some clients usually want their glass products plain as they are, but for those that want to save money, you can have your branding added at the end for convenience.

Types of Glass

You cannot talk about the history of glass without touching on the types of glass that have been produced over the years. There are countless types that have existed; some have disappeared from time, others have persisted through, and new ones have been created. On a broader scale, there are about six main types of glass in heavy use today.

● Annealed Glass: This is glass that has been formed through the annealing process in the float stage. It is formed when glass is allowed to cool gradually in a controlled fashion until it attains room temperature. This helps get rid of the internal stress that keeps building up every time glass is heated and cooled down. If this gradually cooling is not adhered to, the glass would immediately crack with any sudden change in temperature or the slightest physical shock. Annealed glass is mostly used as a base for other advanced forms of glass.

● Heat Strengthened Glass: This is the type of glass that is made tougher by subjecting it to heat treatment of between 650-700 degrees Celsius then followed by rapid cooling. This gives the glass the physical and thermal abilities of annealed glass, but at the same time, it is twice as tough, making it hard for any breakages to take place. One outstanding feature of the glass is its ability to break into smaller pieces. This is why it is used as a component in the making of windshields.

● Tempered Glass: This is a common glass type that is used for most structural applications due to its high strength and thermal resistance. It is made when annealed glass is heated to 700 degrees Celsius. This is followed by a cooling process that is handled by a simultaneous and uniform blast of air on all the surfaces. This difference in cooling rates leads to the manifestation of different physical attributes that lead to a neat balance between tensile stress and compressive stress. This makes the resulting glass five times more stronger than annealed or heat-treated glass.

● Laminated Glass: This is the process where any of the above-mentioned glass types are laminated using a Polyvinyl Butyral interlayer. This lamination gives the glass many advantages like safety, security, and the ability of the entire structure to be held together in case it shatters. This offers some safety for anyone who may be near since there will not be any splintered glass jumping around.

● Silicate Glass: This is the most common type of glass that is made with silicon dioxide as the main ingredient. It is the easiest type of glass to make as sand is widely available in all regions, and it doesn’t take too much energy. In fact, there are some that occur naturally in nature when the right combination of conditions comes together.

● Soda-Lime Glass: Another common type of glass that is made using soda-lime mixed with silicon dioxide, sodium oxide, lime, magnesia, sodium carbonate, and alumina. All these are mixed in specific amounts that will determine the tensile strength of the final product.

Conclusion

Glass has come a long way from its early beginnings many years ago to what it has become in the modern world. The uses and applications continue to branch out every year, and it is easy to see how glass continues to occupy an important space in human lives in the future. To learn more about glass-making processes and the many types of glass that exist, check out our website and have all your questions answered by a team of glass experts.

Reliable Glass Bottles, Jars, Containers Manufacturer | Roetell