picts of glass

More on Glass History

Authored by Rie Sheridan

The first glass was made by volcanoes, and was used by early man. Volcanic obsidian has been broken into sharp implements, chipped into decorations and later melted to form beads, bottles and bowls. In Egypt and Mesopotamia, well before the age of metals, glass was manufactured from raw materials. Glass bottles were found in the tomb of Thutmose I of Egypt. Historians tell us that Thutmose I ruled Egypt from 1507 B.C. to 1497 B.C. These bottles were less than five inches tall, were blue with yellow threads of glass applied to the outside as a decoration. Those ancient people discovered some of the colorants that are used today: cobalt (blue), copper (green), and magnesium (purple). Glass was as much in demand as gemstones and was often used as a substitute for gems in objects of art. Around 300 B.C., the Greeks learned to use a blowpipe to make larger and more useful vessels. In another 100 years the Romans made plate glass for mosaics and wall decorations. They used a mold to contain and shape the blown glass. Later the Romans made cameo glass, worth more than gold and jewels.

Five hundred years ago, glassmaking was a large reason for Venice's rapid rise in wealth and prestige. The Grand Council of Venice moved all glassmaking to the island of Murano, the better to protect their trade secrets from the French and the English. Eventually, when the trade secrets were lost, the industry declined in Venice and was taken up by France, Germany and England. Glass became America's first industry in 1608, roughly a year after the first colonists arrived at Jamestown.

Glass has always been important as a material; but as a business, glass had its early problems. When the settlers landed here, one of their greatest needs was for glass ... to contain food.

Beyond that, England needed to import glass. The large amount of fuel (then wood) needed for glassmaking was already in short supply in England. Therefore, in 1608 Captain John Smith's London Company brought along to Jamestown eight experienced Polish and Dutch glassmakers. They started a glass works at what they called Glass House Point, one mile from the settlement. They made glass and began shipping it back to England. But there was trouble. The glassmakers were catching their death of cold ... and Indians. The survivors quit.

Later the London Company tried again. In 1621, they sent over six Italian Glassmakers. Again they were shipping glass to England. But problems struck again, a storm blew the roof in on one of the six-glassmaking cabins. They were rebuilding when the massacre of 1622 struck Jamestown. In 1624 the glassblowers went home.

There was scattered activity in glass for a hundred years, but no concentrated success until Caspar Wistar opened up in Salem, New Jersey in 1739. The Wistar's were successful until the hard times of the Revolutionary War damaged their business. In 1780 they closed the glassworks. Nevertheless, Caspar and Richard Wistar's success gave glassmaking its start as a major American industry.
In the late 1800's work began on automating the manufacture of glass. In 1903, Michael Owens of the Toledo glass plant of Edward Libbey, created the first automated bottle-making machine.

In 1905, I.J. Collins and 50 employees opened their glass plant in Lancaster, Ohio. The building of Anchor Hocking had taken root as the Hocking Glass Company.

by Rie Sheridan, VERGE Staff

A Brief History on Glass Blowing

Authored by Ann Thrall

More accurate history sets the beginning of glass production nearly twenty-five hundred years earlier than that 1st century account in Mesopotamia where potters fused sand and minerals while firing their clay into glass. Nearly a thousand years later one clever Mesopotamian managed to form a glass tube and blow a bubble at the end, creating the first blowpipe and hence the art of glassblowing. The first metal blowpipe came into widespread use in the 1st or second century before Christ and glass production soared, particularly in the Roman world, where glass became available to the rich and the poor. The decline of the Roman Empire brought a lull in glass making, but then came the rise of the Islamic world, with it's beautifully colored and delicately shaped glass. Throughout its history the production of glass would ebb and flow with the various kingdoms of the world. The Italian Renaissance saw Venice and Murano become centers of glass making, with kings and queens seeking out those cities' gossamer creations. The British Empire's glass tradition came to the New World with Jamestown's first colonists, half a dozen of whom were glassblowers.

Throughout this long history of glassblowing, skilled men endured the tremendous heat to coax beautiful forms from the fire using nothing more than their breath and a few simple tools. They worked hard to polish their skills to uniformity and precision, but even so each creation was as individual as the maker. In the 1820's Bakewell, Page, and Bakewell introduced the first real development in production glassblowing since the blowpipe, a development that would change how glass was used forever. They patented a process of mechanically pressing hot glass. Suddenly the time-consuming handcrafting that all glass had required was no longer necessary and nearly everything around the home began to be made of glass.

Artists who wished to work with glass were forced to the commercial factories that made all these utilitarian objects. In 1962 Harvery Littleton reversed this decline of art glass by discovering that some glass could be melted at a low enough temperature to allow the use of small home-studio furnaces. His discovery brought a rebirth of art glass studios, workshops and schools in the United States, a trend that has only accelerated both nationally and internationally. Once again, men and women stand in front of the glaring heat of furnaces and glory holes with a blowpipe in hand and a vision in their heads, ready to bring form to the molten liquid before them with their breath and a few tools, roughly the same tools the Romans used over two thousand years ago.