If you’re in the window business, you owe your livelihood to the inventor of glass. Without glass, after all, there would be no windows… or not windows in the sense that we have known them for all these many years. And yet, despite its amazing properties, its ability to be shaped, sculpted, thinned, hardened, broken and then reshaped again, there is no Alexander Graham Bell of glass, no “father of the window pane.” Odd that such a ubiquitous substance, essential in so many aspects of our daily lives has not an inventor to call its own.
A Brief History
Well, that may be because glass has been around a real long time. Its first documented use was in 3500 BC Mesopotamia. I’m thinking there probably was a guy, a Mesopotamian we’ll call “Joe,” who discovered what volcanic glass could do, but his name is lost in time. So, rather than crediting just one Joe, we resort to acknowledging entire civilizations – the Mesopotamians, the Syrians, the Romans, the Egyptians, and the English.
It was the Egyptians and Romans who perfected the art of creating artistic stained glass, an innovation for which most churches worldwide should offer thanks. I wonder if Cleopatra and Marc Antony had anything to do with the intermingling of stained glass know-how between those two ancient cultures.
The Syrians were the first glass blowers. By placing molten glass on the end of a hollow tube, they gently blew and sculpted, giving glass its amazing shapes.
The first glass windows could be found in early 17th Century Europe. The English were supposed to have done it first, with casement windows, the kind that could swing in or out, being the window of preference. Later, around the 1680’s, windows took on a new movement – not swinging in and out but up and down as they were surrounded by a square or rectangular wooden frame.
As a rule, improvements to glass were made to make it flatter, clearer, more durable, and able to accomplish more tasks. Glass has a prime role in building design, from quaint residences to massive skyscrapers. Once architects figured out how to support an entire multi-story building using only steel, that freed up the use of glass to become a prominent feature in their design. A skyscraper wall made entirely of glass is called a curtain wall. Take the architectural boat tour down the Chicago River and you’ll see many examples of this dynamic use of glass.
Now they’re using glass in all sorts of crazy ways. One of the hot new trends is to put glass slides, leaning panes of glass or glass floors in tall buildings putting visitors in safe, but precarious, relationships with gravity and the streets many hundreds of feet below.
Given the flexibility of glass and the creativity of mankind, it’s anybody’s guess what the next innovative use of glass may be. But its importance in providing beauty, security and warmth to our homes will always be tantamount.