Historians have discovered that very early man used obsidian, a form of glass, to fashion spear heads out of. Evidence of man-made glass has been found by archaeologists dating back to 4000BC, in the form of glaze used to coat stone beads. By 1500BC man was making hollow glass containers by covering a sand core with molten glass.
Early blown glass was colored due to impurities, and it wasn’t until the First Century AD when clear glass was first made, and colored glass was made by adding coloring agents. Glass making was introduced to Britain by the Romans but the secret to how it was made was guarded very closely until the Roman Empire fell. The skills and knowledge needed to make glass soon spread throughout Europe and the Middle East.
The Venetians were widely recognized as masters at the art of glass bottle making, and a large number of the Italian craftsmen left Italy to set up their own glassworks throughout Europe.
The first evidence of Britain’s glass making dates back to 680AD, in and around Jarrow and Wearmouth, with evidence of glass making in the Surrey and Sussex areas beginning in the 13th Century.
Glass making took a huge leap forward with the advent of lead crystal glass, invented by George Ravenscroft. He added lead to the raw glass materials in an effort to remove the clouding that occurred in clear glass. His glass was softer and more malleable, making it easier to decorate and it had a brilliance and beauty not previously seen in glass. Ravenscroft’s glass made optical lenses, microscopes and telescopes all possible.
Up until 1845 excise taxes constrained Britain’s glass industry but once the Excise Act was repealed the industry began to grow. In 1851 became seen as a valuable building material, when Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace was seen as the Great Exhibition, and its versatility was recognized for use in domestic, horticultural and public construction.
It wasn’t until 1887 that glass making transitioned from the traditional mouth-blown method to a semi-automatic process, with the advent of Ashley’s machine that was capable of producing 200 glass bottles an hour. In 1907 the first fully automated system for making glass was introduced and the glass making industry has been progressing steadily ever since.