Glass makers began in the ancient Middle East and what is now Syria, with glazes and coatings for beads.
The Romans made widespread use of glass for windows, developing glass blowing and clear glass that was then colored, recognizable as the stained glass of later periods in history. The Venetian region became something of a center of excellence, and expertise in glass making spread out from there into Europe and Asia, particularly as the Roman Empire fell apart.
America’s role in the history of glass included bringing full automation to glass production. The Owens company of Manchester Illinois developed the first glass making machine in the early 20th century, capable of producing 2500 bottles in an hour, a process that had previously involved traditional glass blowing.
Wartime production sped the development of glass as a precision instrument and scientific material. More than just something for construction and containers, it was applied to military hardware and specialist production often developed out of necessity or a shortage of imported glass-making materials.
Craft uses for decorative glass have grown in popularity ever since the establishment of art and history education and history. This grew from around the middle of the 19th century. The study of ancient and medieval arts, and items such as stained glass and decorative glassware, energised a revival and a desire to recreate some of the finishes and effects studied in history. Showcases like the London Great Exhibition of 1851, held in a spectacular glass building, and increasing access to education, accelerated its development.
Glass will continue to be used in specialized and scientific applications. Technologies combining glass with plastics and coatings are being refined and developed all the time. Examples include photochromic and optical uses, and ever thinner and custom shaped laboratory equipment.
The ability to reuse, renew and recycle glass gives it an attractive future as a material as awareness increases of the environmental damage of disposal of plastics. And the decorative appeal of glass with its organic, sparkling luminescence is as popular as ever.