If you were to remove glass from the history of the world, life as we know it today would be very different. You’d be surprised at how many things contain glass, and how important they are to everyday life. For instance, windows would still be empty holes in the walls, we’d be drinking out of metal cups and much of today’s science simply wouldn’t have been possible without the use of glass beakers – unbelievable but true!
The glass you most commonly see is called soda-lime glass and is made from a mixture of chemicals and materials, such as sodium carbonate (from which it gets its name), lime, dolomite, silicon dioxide, aluminium oxide and other products. But just how did we go from living life sans-glass in the early ages to using it every single day?
Without glassblowing, the world of glass would still be in the dark ages. Glassblowing came with the Roman Empire and the Romans relied heavily on their glassblowers. Every Roman settlement would have had a glass workshop where Roman tableware and jewellery could be made. The Romans weren’t keeping things simple either – take a look at the examples of Roman glasswork at your local museum (every museum has some!) and you’ll see just how intricate the designs really were.
Glassblowing continued into the middle ages within Europe and new techniques were developed, such as mould-blowing whereby glass was blown into a pre-existing mould to create uniform products.
Unfortunately, the Romans seemed to keep the secret of glassblowing to themselves, and it was only really in Western Europe that it was found early on. In the Eastern countries glassmakers were still using manual glassmaking techniques. For instance, in countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Istanbul glass creations were crafted by slowly winding a melted rope of glass around a mould of sand in the shape of the glass or bowl.
By 9th century BC these glassmakers had uncovered the secrets to producing colourless glass, but it wasn’t up to the standards we expect today. For a long time glassmaking fell out of fashion, mostly because there were a number of disasters during the late Bronze Age that made it difficult for countries to get their hands on glass.
However, by 15th century BC, glassmaking had started to rise up again in the East, but because glass products weren’t exactly easy to produce, and glass itself was a rare commodity, it was still considered a luxury item, with glass recipes being a closely guarded secret by most glassmakers.
Slowly but surely though, more and more experiments started to emerge, so glassmaking advanced considerably.
Glass windows were around since Roman times, but they were thick sheets that were nearly impossible to see out of, and it wasn’t until the 17th century that glass windows became the norm in houses throughout Europe. The sheet glass windows that you see in a lot of older houses came about in the 19th century, when industrial glassmaking had been perfected.
Up until 1904, cars didn’t have windscreens, but this made it pretty difficult to drive in wet or windy conditions, not to mention the perils of dodging insects! Early windscreens were made from plate glass that could shatter easily, but modern versions use tempered glass that’s tougher and shatterproof.
Nowadays, glass is used in many different forms and there are all kinds of designs for it, making it one of the most important materials we work with.
John Paulie is a freelance technology writer who suggests that if you are indeed having trouble driving because you are lacking in the wonders of glass, you consult a specialist in windscreen chip repair and windscreen replacement.