Before people knew how to create glass, they used naturally occurring glass, such as volcanic glass known as obsidian to make knives, arrowheads, jewellery, and coins.
According to the ancient Roman historian Pliny the Elder, the first instance of glass being used may have been by Phoenician traders in the Syrian region around 5000 BC. The first instance of human-made glass can be seen in Eastern Mesopotamia and Egypt in approximately 3500 BC, while the first glass containers were created in Egypt and Mesopotamia around 1500 BC. The glass business grew quickly in the following 300 years before starting to decline. It was reintroduced in Egypt in the 500s BC and in Mesopotamia in the 700s BC. Egypt, Syria, and other nations on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea served as glass production hubs over the following 500 years.
The Roman Empire had a glass production boom, which expanded from Italy to every nation it ruled. Alexandria, in Egypt, was the major hub for glass production in the year 1000 AD. The Chartres and Canterbury cathedral windows created in the 13th and 14th Centuries represent the pinnacle of the skill of producing stained glass for churches and cathedrals throughout Europe.
A Timeline of the History of Glass Manufacturing
- Making glass was previously an extremely labour-intensive and slow process. Small glass-melting furnaces barely provided enough heat to melt the glass. In the 1st Century BC, Syrian artisans created the blowpipe. This ground-breaking discovery simplified, sped up, and reduced the cost of making glass
- Glass manufacturing was present in Venice by the 13th Century, and it had become the western world’s glass manufacturing hub
- In the 15th Century, Venetian glass manufacturer, Angelo Barovier, created Cristallo glass, which was virtually colourless, and translucent
- In the late 16th Century, many Venetians migrated to northern Europe, where they set up factories and exported the Venetian glassblowing technique. The Venetian glass-blowing technique is a free-blowing technique that makes use of gravity, centrifugal force, heat, and simple tools to shape the glass
- Following the Venetians’ migration, English glassmakers were producing glass using the Venetian technique
- In the early 17th Century, the first glass factory was constructed in the United States in Jamestown, Virginia
- In the late 17th Century, lead glass was created by English glassmaker George Ravenscroft. Lead glass is primarily used in the medical field due to lead glass’ ability to shield medical professionals from radiation
- By the early 19th Century, a hand-operated device had replaced the practice of blowing individual bottles, glasses, and flasks
- By the late 19th Century, the first semi-automatic bottle machine was invented
- In the late 19th Century, glass manufacturing, usage, and development saw considerable growth with a variety of items now being manufactured accurately and continuously with the help of machinery
- In the early 20th Century, Irving W. Colburn created the sheet glass drawing machine. This allowed for the mass manufacture of window glass
- The automated bottle-blowing machine was created by American inventor Michael Owens in the early 20th Century
- By the mid-20th Century, float glass production was created by Sir Alastair Pilkington. This manufacturing method is used to this day