Glass History: Thousands of Years in the Making

The delicate, fragile to tempered, strong glass market has developed over hundreds of centuries. Glass history continues to change as new processes develop to add beauty and comfort to living.

Natural glass

Volcanic glass (obsidian) created knife blades and tips for spears and arrows. Careful chipping and shaping resulted in beautiful beads and amulets for jewelry. It even became a form of currency!

Beads in Mesopotamia

Archeological ruins and historic records indicate that true glass was probably invented around 3500 BC in Mesopotamia. It appeared in northern Syria and Ancient Egypt around the same time. Small objects were made by shaping glass while in liquid form with simple tools or casting it in molds. Ancient notations about glass history suggest glass beads were a byproduct of metal-working slags. Glass beads in Egypt date back to 2500 BC.

Historical Hiccups

Humankind was unable to detect the amazing future of glass. It was used to create small objects of beauty, and the resulting quality work was quite expensive. Disasters in Late Bronze Age civilizations caused glass-making to stop for a short while.

Mosaic glass

Mesopotamian artisans developed the ability to turn colored glass into creative patterns. Small pieces were cut into shapes and assembled into a favorite kind of art in the 3rd millennium BC.


Skilled glassmakers in Syria invented the technique of glassblowing in the 1st century BC. Until that time, small, hard to heat furnaces were used to melt glass. The blow pipe invented by Syrian craftsmen made glass production faster, less expensive, and much easier.

Glass Manufacturing in the Roman Empire

Advancements continued in manufacturing glass and it became a prominent trade throughout the Roman Empire. By 1000 AD, the Egyptian city of Alexandria claimed a spot in glass history as the premiere center for manufacturing glass.

Stained glass

The incredible beauty of stained glass is a result of true dedication to art in the 13th and 14th centuries AD. Cathedrals and churches across Europe featured the colorful shapes set in small frames and pressed together to create historic Biblical scenes to grace the windows.

Clear glass

Venetian glass blower Angelo Barovier invented transparent glass with little color during the 15th century AD. Called cristallo, the beautiful glass was heavily exported to other countries. Artisans left Venice during the late 1500s for the better life of northern Europe. They established factories and introduced the art of glassblowing to apprentices in their new home. By 1575, English glassmakers were highly skilled in the art of Venetian glass.

Lead crystal

Lead crystal was invented in 1675 by English glassmaker George Ravenscroft. The addition of lead oxide to intricate Venetian glass resulted in a heavier, stronger product.

Sheet (window and art) Glass

Window glass was desperately needed for the new homes being built to accommodate the population boom across North America. In 1902, Irving W Colburn’s patented sheet glass drawing machine resulted in the ability to economically produce huge amounts of windows.

Bottles and jars of glass

Michael Owen applied for and received a patent for a “glass shaping machine” in 1904. The first completely automated bottle machine was developed by Owens in 1907, where it produced 2,500 bottles an hour at the Manchester plant of glass manufacturers Owens of Illinois.

Glass history continues to add benchmarks to its historical chart. The addition of Studio glass in the 1960s lent a 3-dimensional aspect to glass artwork.

Timeline of Glass History

3500 BC – Glass objects created in Mesopotamia

1st century BC – Art of glassblowing invented in Syria

12th century AD – Stained glass created

15th century AD –Cristallo (first clear glass) invented in Venice

20th century AD – Invention of sheet glass drawing and automated glass shaping machines

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