The history of glass
The discovery of glass
It is generally thought that the origin of glass dates from around 2500 BC, in Mesopotamia and Egypt. At the time, it was used for decorative purposes.
Around 1500 BC, the first utilitarian objects in glass were made, in Egypt. These included cups, bowls and bottles that were molded around a core of sand or clay.
Glass making began around 4,500 years ago.
The glass blowing technique
The first great technical revolution in the fabrication of glassware, glassblowing, appeared in the 1st century AD in Palestine or Syria. This technique involves gathering molten glass at the end of a hollow pipe, into which the craftsman blows to give form to the object.
Items produced in this way were either destined for domestic use, such as bottles, or for more artistic purposes, such as vases. Over time, they became part of everyone's daily lives. The technique progressively spread throughout the Western world. Glassmaking became established in what is now France and Italy.
Later, the barbarian invasions would seriously disrupt this progress, by restricting the movements of certain raw materials, such as soda. The people of Gaul and Germany succeeded in maintaining their glassmaking activity by using the ashes from peat or wood fires.
It was in Italy - in Venice - and in Normandy that glassmaking reappeared in the 9th century. From the 11th century onwards, thanks to the quality of its production, Venice became the European center in the art of glass. Glass production was concentrated on the island of Murano, to limit the risks of fire and to protect the trade's manufacturing secrets.
At this time already, the glassmakers of Murano used cullet, recovered glass with its impurities removed, then crushed into pieces of around 20-40mm in size.
The flat glass technique
By the 14th century, glass workshops appeared in Lorraine, in eastern France.
Around this time, the technique of producing flat glass for windows was developed in Normandy. This involved blowing a sphere of glass, cutting it open, then spinning it rapidly round so that the centrifugal force transformed it like the opening of a tulip into a disc.
The Royal Glassworks
The great organizing force behind the French glass industry was Colbert. In 1665 he created the 'Manufacture Royale des Glaces' (the Royal Glassworks). It opened its first plant in the village of Saint Gobain in the Aisne region.
In the 18th century, glass production gradually moved from an individual craft onto a more industrial scale, and even in those times certain factories produced more than a million hand-blown bottles a year.
The arrival of glassblowing machines 1880
Around 1880, Claude Boucher, a master glassmaker in Cognac, had the idea of using compressed air to blow the molten glass into its final form, increasing production by 150% compared with hand blowing.
The industrial revolution of the 19th century accelerated the development of glass manufacturing techniques:
- furnaces were heated using coal rather than wood
- the first automated machines came into service
- forming was carried out using compressed air and metal molds.
The continuous-fire furnace
The 20th century saw the advent of the industrial continuous-fire furnace, which enabled the production of glass on a truly industrial scale.
Even though the main principles of modern glass production where established at the dawn of the 20th century, our industry has never stopped evolving.
It has taken on board all the advances offered by technology: from automation and electronic control, to the development of new containers using computer-aided design (CAD).
Today: a vast range of products
Today, Saint-Gobain Packaging produces 30,000 millions bottles and jars every year, for the food and drink industry.