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Glass dates back to somewhere after 2500 BC. Some of the oldest examples of glass, including beads, amulets, and vases, have been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs.

In its earliest form, glass was made by melting a combination of silica and alkali. Through the generations, other substances have been used to improve the quality of the glass. Today glass is made by heating a chemical called flux, mixed with sand and an alkali, in a crucible (a heat-resistant container) at approximately 2,500 to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. After the mixture has melted, the furnace is turned down, letting the glass cool to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

A Brief History of Glassmaking in the United States

Glassmaking has been around since prehistoric times. The first glass objects were made from natural glasses such as obsidian (volcanic glass) or rock crystal.

The first glass factory in the United States was built in 1608, and glass was carried in the first cargo exported to England. Caspar Wistar, a German-born manufacturer, set up the first successful large-scale glasshouse in 1739 in New Jersey. Manufacturer H. W. Stiegel, who was also German-born, produced some of the finest colonial glassware in his Pennsylvania glasshouses.

An American named Deming Jarves invented a glass-pressing machine around 1827. It was used in his Boston and Sandwich Glass Company. The glass-pressing machine introduced mass-produced glass products. But glassmakers were still able to earn a living making glass the old-fashioned way, even as the country embraced mass-produced glass. Fine craftsmanship was still highly valued.

Louis C. Tiffany, an American artist, designed and manufactured an iridescent glass used in a variety of art objects in the late 1800s. Sidney Waugh is another American artist known for creating exceptionally fine blown glassware.

In the contemporary world, glass is used in modern architecture to transmit electricity; as an instrument in scientific research; and for lighting, optical instruments, household utensils, and even fabrics. New forms of glass have revolutionized the industry. Safety glass, which is usually constructed of two pieces of plate glass bonded together with a plastic that prevents the glass from shattering when broken, is one of the modern innovations in glass technology. However, there still remains a place for the craftsperson who uses glass to create objects of beauty. The unique pieces created by craftspeople offer something much more special than mass-produced objects.

If the glassmaker wishes to create an object by blowing glass, he or she shapes a glob of molten hot glass on the end of a pontil, or long metal blowpipe. The glassmaker blows into the pipe, creating a bubble from the molten glass that adheres to the end of the pipe. When the glassmaker is satisfied with the size of the bubble, he or she shapes the hot glass with tools while twirling the glob to counteract the pull of gravity.

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