The Glass of the Past


Glass is amazingly versatile and has a wide range of personal and professional uses. Have you ever wondered when it all started? How someone, somewhere, looked at an unrefined stone-like substance and started using it for tools and then deciding to use it for protection against the elements?

History of Glass

People used naturally occurring glass, such as obsidian before they learned how to make glass. Obsidian was used for production of knives, arrowheads, jewellery and money. It is believed that in ancient Rome, Phoenician merchants had made the first glass in the region of Syria around 5000 BC. But according to archaeological evidence, the first man made glass was in Eastern Mesopotamia and Egypt around 3500 BC. This was leading to  the first glass vessels being made about 1500 BC in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

For the next 300 years, the glass industry increased rapidly and then declined. In Mesopotamia it was revived in the 700BC and in Egypt in the 500’s BC. For the next 500 years, Egypt, Syria and the other countries along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea were centres for glass manufacturing.

In the beginning it was very hard and slow to manufacture glass. Glass melting furnaces were small and the heat they produced was hardly enough to melt glass. But in the 1st century BC, Syrian craftsmen invented the blow pipe. This revolutionary discovery made glass production easier, faster and cheaper. Glass production flourished in the Roman Empire and spread from Italy to all countries under its rule. In 1000 AD the Egyptian city of Alexandria was the most important centre of glass manufacture. Throughout Europe the miraculous art of making stained glass on churches and cathedrals across the continent reached its height in the finest Chatres and Conterbury cathedral windows produced in the 13th and 14th centuries. 

Glass Manufacturing History

By the time of the Crusades, glass manufacturing was developed in Venice which became the glassmaking centre of the western world. In 1291 glassmaking equipment was transferred to the island of Murano. During the 15th century, Venetian glass blower, Angelo Barovier, created cristallo, nearly colourless, transparent glass. By the late 1500’s, many Venetians went to northern Europe seeking a better life where they established factories and brought the art of Venetian glassblowing.

By 1575, English glassmakers were making glass in Venetian fashion. In 1674, an English glassmaker George Ravenscroft invented lead glass. The first glass factory in the United States was built in Jamestown, Virginia in 1608. In the early 1800’s, there was a great demand for window glass which was then called crown glass. The age of blowing individual bottles, glasses and flasks was ended by the invention of a hand-operated machine in the 1820’s. In the 1870s, the first semi-automatic bottle machine was introduced. 

After 1890, glass use, development and manufacture began to increase rapidly. Machinery has been developed for precise, continuous manufacture of a host of products. In 1902, Irving W. Colburn invented the sheet glass drawing machine which made possible the mass production of window glass.

At Cornwall Glass we offer a wide range of glass products and services to meet the specific glass needs of our clients. We pride ourselves on being glass experts, but it’s just as important to understand the beginnings of the products we work with as well. Learn more at our services page.