The History of Glass and How it’s Made

Published by Tim Cork on in Product Spotlight

The first man made glass dates back to 4000 BC and was found around Syria, Mesopotamia and Egypt - an area widely regarded as the cradle of civilisation - and its use continued throughout the Bronze Age, mainly for small items such as beads. The first simple glass vessel appeared towards the end of this period, though glass was still a luxury item.

There's little evidence of glass making in the years following the disasters that ended the Bronze Age civilisations, though it was revived in the 9th century BC in Mesopotamia, and production continued in this area centring on Alexandria. The first glass making manual dates from this time - around 650 BC - from the court of the Assyrian king. Over the next 500 years production increased and gradually spread to Italy.

A major breakthrough in glass making occurred at the end of the 1st century BC, when Syrian craftsmen began glass blowing. The Romans developed this technique by blowing glass into moulds, resulting in a greater variety of shapes. Glass vessels became inexpensive in comparison to pottery items, and the Romans were responsible for the flourishing of glass works across Western Europe and the Mediterranean.

The Romans also introduced the use of glass into architecture, following the production of clear glass in Alexandria in c. AD 100. The most important buildings in Rome, as well as some of the luxury villas of Pompeii and Herculaneum, now had cut-glass windows, albeit of a poor quality.

Developments in glass making continued throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, with the invention of sheet glass and the rise of stained glass windows. Venice became the centre of glass production, and in the second half of the 15th century a particularly fine crystal was made here, from quartz sand and potash.

In 1674, English glass maker George Ravenscroft patented his own version of lead crystal, a rival to the fine Venetian crystal, and later that century new processes were developed in France for the production of sheet glass. During the latter stages of the Industrial Revolution the technology for mass production of glass was developed, which was the forerunner of the glass industry that we know today.

So how do we make glass today? Silica (sand) is melted with soda ash and limestone in a furnace at 1700°C. Depending on usage, it can be coated, engraved, or heat-treated, and manipulated to the size and shape required. The rate at which the glass is allowed to cool also affects the properties of the finished item.

It's hard to imagine life without glass today - from light bulbs to windows to wine bottles, life would be very strange without all of them. So when you're snuggling down with a glass of wine in the ambient lamplight this evening beside your sash windows, kept warm by your double-glazing, be thankful for the glass in your life!

Thanks to Peach Properties for this guest blog.

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