From Kings to the Masses: A Brief history in Commercial Glass
Before we even understood the physical processes involved in forming this miraculous medium, natural phenomena were already providing it for us in ready-to-use forms. The earliest found glass artefacts are largely made of obsidian, a dark glass formed from the rapid cooling of volcanic lava and then left in easily accessible deposits. Nature’s other provision of glass before the human creation of it began came through lightning strikes in the sand, forming hollow, root-like tubes called fulgurites. Although production of residential glass has advanced well past reliance upon lightning, to the point that commercial glass no longer takes a miracle, these streaks of petrified electricity are still fascinating to scientists and hobby collectors alike.
The first signs of commercial glass appeared on or around 3000 BC in Mesopotamia, but it was a long and rocky road before the industry gained any real mastery over their craft. For the first few thousand years of production, commercial glass was strictly for the elite and in the tiny quantities needed for cosmetics bottles or delicate jewellery. This all changed though under the Roman Empire at the beginning of the Common Era, as glass blowing spread and suddenly the masses could afford the prized rarity. Production was still costly and time-intensive, and finished products were not in large, functional forms such as commercial and residential glass doors, but the industry was diversifying.
Before commercial glassmaking ever reached the levels of utility that we experience today, and commercial glass or glazing was not even an industry, the art passed through numerous regions and methods, each new phase adding to its repertoire of believed physical attributes and potential for manipulation. From the celebrated virtuoso of Venetian glassblowers during the Crusades to the introduction of lead oxide to the process by English craftsmen in the late 16th century, glass making took a different shape and form varying by region and time.
The 19th century heralded the major innovations responsible for the luxuries we enjoy today of not only being able to commission commercial doors at reasonable prices but also being able to replace them when necessary. Some of the innovations focused on the entire process of glass making, such as converting from wood to coal as a fuel for glass factories in the 1880’s. Other innovations centred on the handling of the glass itself as machinery used to weld, compress, cut, and seal became much more refined, and commercial glass replacement was streamlined. Now commercial door comes in so many varieties that the word itself has a plurality demanding further specification. When one stops to consider the impressive history of human patience and perseverance in the understanding glass, it’s hard to take for granted the myriad ways in which we rely upon it today. The next time you knock on a commercial glass door, think about the not too distant past when you would have certainly been entering a house of royalty.
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