The Industrialisation of Glass Making

Making Glass on an Industrial Scale

The industrialisation of the glass making process happened extremely quickly with advances being made in all glass making centres. Each advance increased productivity and cut costs, making glass items more affordable, further boosting demand.

Repeal of the Excise Act in 1845 helped the British glass making industry expand and inspired Joseph Paxton to create Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851, increasing demand for glass in architecture for public and private buildings.

Crystal Palace London



Michael Owen's Bottle Making Machine

Glass Bottling Machines 

In 1887 Howard Ashley designed a machine semi-automating glass bottle blowing, making 200 an hour, treble the previous quantities.

The production process was slowed by use of the pot furnace which limited how much glass could be worked at one time. Friedrich Siemens designed a tank furnace in 1867 enabling continuous molten glass production and American engineer, Michael Owens, developed a fully automatic bottle maker producing 2,500 bottles an hour in 1907.

In 1923, the development of a more sophisticated Gob Feeder provided a faster supply of consistently sized gobs.  Individual Section (IS) machines were developed soon after allowing simultaneous production of a number of different bottles from one machine.


Flat Glass Technology

Flat glass technology had similar advances following the French innovation of pouring molten glass on to a table and smoothing it before repeating on the reverse.

Belgian Emile Fourcault managed to draw a vertical sheet of consistent width glass from a tank in 1905 and at the end of the First World War, another Belgian, Emile Bicheroux, developed a process used in Germany whereby the glass would be poured directly between two rollers creating a more even sheet, thus reducing the amount of grinding and polishing needed.

Despite much refining, this same basic process remains in use today.

Drawing sheet glass between rollers

Emile Fourcault's vertical draw process for sheet glass


The Float Process

The float process was developed by Pilkingtons after WW11 and involved pouring molten glass over a bed of molten tin to again reduce the amount of polishing needed.


Diagram showing Pilkington's float glass production process


From the unpromising beginning of naturally occurring Obsidian, glass has become ubiquitous in modern life providing containers and drinking vessels, and lighting our workplaces, homes and cars.  We are accustomed to glass objects of great beauty cut, coloured, engraved or inscribed from stained glass windows adorning our churches to cut crystal glasses and personalised gifts, trophies and awards.