Clera Windows + Doors Blog

A Brief History of Glass Windows 

Seeing how sleek and polished glass windows of today are, it’s very hard to imagine a point in time when they were crudely made or even completely absent. The glass windows of today are clear, fortified, and even help us to save on energy costs. But before humanity was able to reap the benefits of modern glass windows, glass windows used to look very different. For example, the image below is called crown glass, a product of one of the earliest methods of creating glass windows. There was no way to properly enjoy a clear, crisp view looking out from this type of glass! Crown glass is also not as strong or as safe as the glass windows of today. This just goes to show how far along we’ve come in the development of glass windows.  

In this article, we will take some time to look back and appreciate the phases in the invention of glass windows that have led to the refinement of modern glass windows of today. So sit back, relax, and let’s get started on this historical journey1 

 

Closeup of crown glass, a product of one of the oldest methods of creating glass

The First-Ever Glass was Black and Volcanic 

Glass windows history traces far back to the prehistoric times when glass was first discovered in nature. However, this glass isn’t the clear, transparent type of glass that we’re used to. The prehistoric people used naturally-occurring volcanic glass such as obsidian to fashion weapons like knives and arrowheads, as well as jewelry and money. 

The Earliest Glass Manufacturing Started at 3500 BC 

According to archaeological evidence, the first man-made glass surfaced at 3500 BC in the regions of Eastern Mesopotamia and Egypt. The ancient glass industry had its ups and downs but eventually, this region of the world (along with some surrounding areas) would become the very first centers for glass manufacturing for 500 years. 

Understandably, manufacturing glass used to be a slow and difficult process due to small glass melting furnaces and its insufficient heat. But this changed when Syrian craftsmen introduced the blowpipe. This discovery made the process faster, easier, and cheaper. 

Back then, the idea of glass windows was not yet conceived and glass was used mostly for making vessels and jewelry.  

Glass products from Egypt and Mesopotamia

The Earliest Glass Manufacturing Started at 3500 BC 

According to archaeological evidence, the first man-made glass surfaced at 3500 BC in the regions of Eastern Mesopotamia and Egypt. The ancient glass industry had its ups and downs but eventually, this region of the world (along with some surrounding areas) would become the very first centers for glass manufacturing for 500 years. 

Understandably, manufacturing glass used to be a slow and difficult process due to small glass melting furnaces and its insufficient heat. But this changed when Syrian craftsmen introduced the blowpipe. This discovery made the process faster, easier, and cheaper. 

Back then, the idea of glass windows was not yet conceived and glass was used mostly for making vessels and jewelry.  

Glass Production Spreads to Rome 

The art of glass production made its way to Rome and its colonies. And by the end of the 1st century AD, manufacturing glass was refined and done at scale – to a point that glass became a commonly-available material in the Roman world.  

It was also during this period that Romans were the first to make window glass panes. This early type of window glass was of uneven thickness and was not see-through like modern glass but it allowed some light to pass through. 

Stained Glass Gains Popularity Across Europe 

During the 4th century, Christians started to build the early churches as Christianity began to spread throughout Europe. In building these churches, stained glass was used for the windows to create beautiful biblical images, thereby making stained glass a dominant art form of this millennium. 

The oldest known surviving stained-glass windows in the Augsburg Cathedral

The First Window Glass is Manufactured in Britain 

During the early 17th century, window glass was first manufactured in Brittain. It was during this time that glass windows started to become more popular for homes across the western world. 

The manufacturing process was still crude. The process involved the creation of a lengthy balloon of glass that was blown then both ends of this balloon would be removed, leaving behind a cylinder. This cylinder of glass was then split and flattened. During this time, large sheets of glass are not yet made for windows, which is why old glass windows usually had multiple panes of glass that were fastened together with bars. 

Large sheets of glass were only made possible by the float process which comes way later in the glass windows’ historical timeline. 

The First Glass Factory Opens in America 

After some time, the first glass factory was opened in Jamestown, Virginia. The manufacturing process was still relatively the same, consisting of a bubble of glass that was flattened and reheated before being cut into shapes. This was, however, a cheaper and more efficient to make window glass at the time. 

The Development of Crown Glass 

Crown glass is a pivotal discovery and was introduced to Brittain in 1674. The process of making crown glass involves a sphere of molten glass that is blown into a bubble and pierced by a rod. This is then spun into a circular sheet. When it was cooled down, it was cut into panes. Despite its imperfections and ripples, this type of glass it is still finer and clearer than the broad glass of before.  

The Development of Cylinder Sheet Glass 

Then, in 1834, a cylinder method of manufacturing quality glass was developed in Germany. This allowed for even larger sheets of glass to be made.

The Development of Drawn Glass

The process of ‘drawing’ glass was introduced by Emile Fourcault in 1904. As the name suggests, the process involves placing a slot in a tank of molten glass and then ‘drawing’ sheets of glass through it, over water-cooled rollers, and straight into a cooling chamber. 

Around the same time, Irving Colburn introduced the Colburn machine which made glass in a relatively similar fashion but with the paper-making process as its inspiration. In this machine, the sheet of glass is drawn vertically from the surface of molten glass then gently bent over a roller until it lays horizontally. 

For both of these processes, the glass had to be ground and polished afterwards. 

The Colburn machine

The Discovery of Laminated Glass 

In the year 1903, a French chemist named Edouard Benedictus made the accidental discovery of laminated glass when his glass flask that was coated with plastic cellulose nitrate dropped to the floor and shattered – but did not break. 

Since this discovery, the process of inserting a thin plastic film between two sheets of glass allowed for more safety with larger windows.  

The Development of Float Glass 

In 1959, Alastair Pilkington introduced the process of making float glass. This remains to be the industry standard of making glass today. In this process, the molten glass is poured onto a bed of molten tin. As the molten glass floats on the molten tin, the molten glass spreads out to form a level surface. This process allows for very large panes of distortion-free glass to be made.

Modern Glass Windows 

Float glass has come a long way. Now, homeowners have various glass options for their windows. Laminated glass, obscured glass, tempered glass, and Low-E glass are among the options depending on the homeowner’s needs.

As one of Canada’s premier manufacturers of glass windows, we at Clera Windows + Doors, are proud to have 41+ years of industry experience, and counting. We continue to adapt and innovate, making sure that our products are of the highest quality for our customers. 

Do you need a window for your home or building? Shop at Clera Windows + Doors and avail of our professional window installation service. Contact us today for a free quote!

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