The History of Glass


Take a moment to consider how often glass moves in and out of our lives each day, from the alarm clock in the morning to warm milk before bed. And we’re not alone. People around the globe rely on glass, and have for generations, but has anyone stopped to wonder how the relationship evolved? Here is a brief look at that history and why we love glass so much.

Glass in its most basic form occurs naturally. This type of glass, known as obsidian (a volcanic glass), has been proven to date back to the Stone Age, during which time its primary use was in tool making. Manmade glass, however, was found between 3500 and 3100 BC in the regions of Syria, Egypt and Mesopotamia, and included objects such as beads.

By the Bronze Age (approximately 1500 BC), more sophisticated objects began to appear, such as molded, colored vessels. The glass was made from sodium carbonate, or “soda ash,” which comes from plants. In order to make an object such as a vase, ropes of heated glass would be wound around a mold and reheated as needed to fuse the ropes together to create a closed, solid object. The glass would then be pressed to make a smooth object. From this time onward, glass production flourished in its founding regions.

After a brief halt in production due to various world troubles, glass making made a huge stride in the 9th century BC, when techniques for creating clear glass were discovered in Syria and Cyprus. By 650 BC, the first how-to manual was written for the art of glass creation, found in the Assyrian Assurbanipal's library (the Assyrian King).

Egypt unfortunately took some time to rebound and start glass production again. When it did, however, it got serious. By the Hellenistic period (300s – 100s BC), Egyptians were creating tableware. New production techniques like slumping glass over a mold to make dishes and millefiori, which took pieces of different colored glass and combined them for a mosaic pattern, also emerged.

Glass blowing was discovered in 1 AD in Babylon. Inflating the glass made it much easier to mold and create various objects, which led to a boom in glassmaking and the ultimate spread of the practice around the world.

Even greater achievements were made in glass production in the intervening years, such as techniques for making stained glass in Medieval Europe and Murano glass in Italy in the 14th century. In terms of more geographically-relevant advancements, modern glassmaking appeared in North America in the Jamestown Island Virginia settlement of the 1600s. The first glassmakers studied in Germany and Poland and used local materials such as sand, potash and ground up oyster shells for the production of glass. This first retail glass focused primarily materials such as windows and drinking classes.

North American glass became a symbol of wealth. To own it meant that these people had money and even some of the richest westerns had little or no glass items at all. Even so, most items were functional, like stemmed wine glasses and punch bowls, rather than decorative. Major glass factories were up and running by the 1700s in New York, which used twisting methods and also mimicked European influences, like incorporating curved lines and cuts, rather than the standard straight cuts that had previously dominated. New York is also where engraving practices became popular.

Today glassmakers continue to grow on those traditions, making our dependency as strong as ever—there are 18 lab glassware container styles alone. We understand that not everyone loves glass like the people at LabWrench. But, just for a moment this holiday season, take a look around at all of the decorations and consider how the world would be different without glass and its long history.

Please have safe and happy holidays!

Jennifer Elliott
Development Analyst
Qorpak Laboratory Glassware