All About Glass

All About Glass

This is your resource for exploring various topics in glass: delve deeper  with this collection of articles, multimedia, and virtual books all about glass. Content is frequently added to the area, so check back for new items. If you have a topic you'd like to see covered, send us your suggestion. If you have a specific question, Ask a Librarian at our Rakow Research Library.

Countless Variations: Lens Combinations
Article

The world began to realize that so far it had only toyed with glass. Now a brand new material was born.     -Walter Kioulehn, Odyssey of the 41 Glassmakers, 1959 By the mid-1800s, there were still only two kinds of optical glass: soda-lime crown glass and lead-containing flint glass. Opticians

Birth of a New Industry: Fiberglass
Article

"If necessity is the mother of invention, then for the glass fiber industry, adversity is the father."     -William Boeschenstein, Owens-Corning Fiberglas, 1995 The world’s largest bottle plant stood empty. Prohibition and the Depression had crushed the demand for bottles. American bottle

Finding the Right Recipe: Borosilicate Glass
Article

Otto Schott, the pioneering German glass chemist, made a glass that could reliably do something that didn’t seem possible: endure sudden, uneven temperature shifts without shattering. The key, Schott discovered in 1882, was to have a critical amount of the element boron in the glass recipe. Schott

Continuous Perfection: Optical-Quality Glass
Article

They make glass. By day and night, the fires burn on … and bid the sand let in the light.     -Carl Sandburg, In Reckless Ecstasy, 1904. To see the unseeable: the quest is unending. But lenses and prisms are only as good as their glass. Optical-quality glass must be flawless. Even tiny flecks,

The Fabulous Monster: Owens Bottle Machine
Article

The most significant advance in glass production in over 2,000 years...     -American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1983 Michael Owens, a self-taught American inventor, propelled the glass industry into the mechanical age. In 1903, he unveiled the world’s first completely automatic glass-forming

The Precise Moment: Tempered Glass
Article

Glass breaks. But if it’s strengthened by thermal tempering, it breaks less easily and more safely. By 1920, architects and European car designers wanted more and more tempered glass—and in large sheets. Glassmakers could successfully temper only one sheet in ten. There’s a trick to tempering: heat

From a Broken Flask: Laminated Safety Glass
Article

Edouard Benedictus, a set and costume designer for a French theater, wanted to make glass safer. He was disturbed by reports of people being disfigured by broken windshield glass during automobile accidents. How could windshields be made less dangerous? He recalled a curious incident that had

On a Thread of Glass: Optical Fibers for Communication
Article

I have heard a ray of the sun laugh and cough and sing!    -Alexander Graham Bell It was a bright idea: use sunlight to transmit the human voice. In 1880, American innovator Alexander Graham Bell tried it, using a thin, flexible mirror to reflect a light beam onto a distant receiver. His voice

Getting the Whole Picture: Bundled Glass Fibers
Article

Glass rods could transmit light, but could they transmit an image? A professor at a French agricultural college found himself faced with that question in the 1890s while he was tinkering with an early version of television. Henri C. Saint-Rene needed to find a way to transmit an image onto his

With a Burst of Energy: Glass That Amplifies Light
Article

It was an idea that might have remained buried in scientific journals. Instead, it led to a device that gave modern telecommunications a much-needed boost. In the 1960s, Elias Snitzer, a physicist at American Optical, added rare earth elements to glass. These elements can absorb light energy—and,

A Break with Tradition: Fused Silica
Article

After you see something work, then you realize that it’s not so complicated after all.      – J. Franklin Hyde It’s exquisitely pure and remarkably transparent. It expands and contracts very little with changes in temperature. It is the simplest of all glasses, yet for years it was nearly

The Quest to See More: Glass Lenses
Article

Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins.    – Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, 1862 A glass lens. It’s nothing more than a curved piece of glass. So simple. So familiar. It’s changed the way we perceive the world. In 1608, when Dutch spectacle maker Hans Lippershey held up two lenses, one

Glass and the Space Orbiter
Article

The space shuttle has triple paned, optical-quality windows. Thirty-seven window panes in eleven different sizes and shapes are produced for each Orbiter. The %%fused%% %%silica%% outer panes of the forward windshields are designed to withstand high atmosphere reentry temperatures. The inner,

A Discovery Waiting to Happen: Glass-Ceramics
Article

Why did such an important discovery occur so late in the … history of glass, and why was an accident necessary to bring it about?      – Donald Stookey, 1977 Crystals are usually a glassmaker’s enemy. When they form in glass, crystals can change the properties of the material in unwanted ways.

Staying On-line: Coated Glass
Article

Glass windows are great, but they waste energy. A glass pane provides only slightly more insulation than nothing at all. Even so, builders were using more, and bigger, windows. Then, in 1973, the energy crisis hit. Harvard University chemist Roy Gordon knew that a tin oxide coating would make

Lighting the Way: Fresnel Lens
Article

The most dangerous part of a sailing trip used to be returning to shore. Lighthouses were built to signal the safest route, but often the weak light from their lamps was not visible until too late. The large, thick lens that was supposed to project the light absorbed much of the signal.  Hollowing

Genie in the Bottle: Glass Bulbs & TV Tubes
Article

In 1879, the brilliant inventor Thomas Edison was on the verge of a breakthrough. He had discovered a slow-burning filament that would glow for hours in the vacuum of a glass globe. But to create the first practical electric light, he needed a glass globe that would not implode when the air was

A Pressing Solution: Shaped Glass
Article

Glass manufacturers had spent centuries learning how to make flat glass. Now, they wanted to bend it into complex shapes—without marring its surface. Anything that touched the surface of the hot glass could leave a mark. The first curved windows were made by slumping. A glass sheet was placed in a

One Step Closer: The Iron Glassblower
Article

A little more than 2,000 years ago, a Roman glassworker did something that dramatically changed the course of history. He blew a puff of air through a hollow %%rod%% into a gob of hot glass. The gob inflated into a bubble. At that moment, glassblowing was born. Glassblowing provided a way to make

On a Pool of Tin: Float Glass
Article

The auto and building industries boomed after World War II. Plate glass was in extremely short supply. Twin-grinding—used all over the world to make the glass—was too costly and too slow to keep up with the demand. Could high-quality glass be made without grinding and polishing? Alastair Pilkington

The Window Machines: Sheet & Plate Glass
Article

The mighty glowing columns that stand like pillars in a ghostly cathedral...     -Anonymous At the beginning of the 20th century, there was no way to mass-produce flat glass. Although glass cylinders could be drawn by machine, they had to be opened and flattened by hand. What was needed was a way

Reflections on Glass: Telescope Mirrors
Article

I contrived heretofore, a perspective by Reflexion.       —Sir Isaac Newton, c. 1668 The refracting telescope gave astronomers their first real glimpse of the heavens. Then, it began to frustrate them. At higher magnifications, the instrument’s glass lenses produced distorted images. Pioneering

The Long Road to Success: Fusion Draw Glass
Article

Both companies were chasing the same thing: the enormous market for flat glass. While Pilkington was working to develop flat glass, Corning Glass Works was developing a process of its own. Fusion draw produced a continuous sheet of exceptionally thin, pristine glass, but it was too slow to compete.

Making Window Glass by Hand: Crown & Cylinder Glass
Article

When you think of a window, you think of a flat piece of glass. But window glass didn’t always start out flat. It once began as a massive bubble on the end of a glassblower’s pipe. To flatten the bubble, the glassblower could spin it rapidly into a huge disk called a crown. After it was cool, the