Volcanic eruptions resulted in the formation of obsidian a natural glass that was prized by early man and used in making tools, ornaments and weapons. This was followed by the Egyptians and Mesopotamians who discovered the basic formula for making glass around 1500 BC. A combination of sand, plant ash and lime was used in furnaces ultimately resulting in hot glass that was shed around cores of earth and dung. Afterwards the dung was discarded and the glass cleaned. Some of the uses of glass included making vessels, glass tiles and decorating walls with colored glass slices. There have also been claims that the Phoenicians discovered a glassy substance under their campfires although subsequent attempts to duplicate this theory have been unsuccessful. It is also no secret that glass was more easily available to the rich and noble. It wasn’t until the 3rd century that glass vessels for storage of water become available for the lower classes.
The Syrians had already invented he blow pipe around 300 BC before the Romans had their turn. The Romans embraced the ancient technique and refined it enabling them to make newer shapes and patterns on the glass. They also devised ways to color the glass and introduced gold and silver inlays in order to decorate the glass.
The Greeks also produced their glass using the blow pipe technique. They developed complex decoration techniques that still defy modern technology and inspired a new generation of glass makers. They also refined the process enabling glass to be affordable enough to make vessels, cups, vases and bottles.
Despite the widespread knowledge of glass making Venice soon came to dominate the craft. The city hosted so many glass houses that the government of the day set aside the island of Murano for the industry. The glass produced was of such high value that it could be exchanged for gold thereby enriching Venice and turning it into a major trade center. Venice began holding glass workers as prisoners in order to avoid their secret knowledge from spreading to the competition. Their tactics worked for a while and they did have massive monopolies before craftsmen in France and Germany caught up. The French in particular came up with a method whereby a closed cylinder of glass was blown and the ends subsequently sagged flat. It was a method that yielded flat glass that could be used to make windows.
The art of glass blowing and other related techniques grew in leaps and bounds following the publication of L’Arte Vetraria by Antonio Neri. Finally the secret art of glass making had been compiled and revealed to the masses. Glass making spread to through out Europe and Asia.
The Scientific Revolution
During the post Renaissance years Astronomy, Medicine, Chemistry and Physics all relied on glass for their growth. This was mainly through the telescope which enabled astronomers to study the heavens, the lens which enabled advancements in medicine and chemistry and glass apparatus which created a neutral medium for chemicals to react. Glass also aided in making major breakthrough in diseases such as polio which had plagued mankind for ages thereby increasing the overall quality of man’ life.
Glass blowing was introduced in America around 1607 by the Virginia Company of London. The venture although at first deemed profitable turned out to be unsuccessful and the company closed shop. In 1622 the glass industry was revived and it played a major part in the construction of homes throughout the new continent.
Light Up the World
Before bulbs the world relied on bees wax, whale fat and fires for their light. Thomas Edison finally solved this problem when he used a hand blown glass bulb, a filament wire and a current to harness electricity into producing light. This is probably one the greatest inventions of humanity as it literary lit up the world.
1960’s to Present
Glass has played a huge part in the digital age. It first provided the monitors for the personal computer before becoming a mainstay in the even more revolutionary cell phone. Glass still play a huge role in smart phones and is expected to continue leading the charge. It is also widely used in the automotive and airplane industry. Glass being unreactive with most elements will also play a huge role in space exploration.
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