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A Few Interesting Facts About The History Of Glass

A Few Interesting Facts About The History Of Glass

Glass is one of the most important construction materials in the world. From a humble tumbler to an entire building, it has an endless variety of uses. Here are some interesting facts about glass that you may not know. 

Stone Age people used naturally occurring glass

Obsidian is a naturally occurring glass that was used in the Stone Age to make tools, and possibly even decorative items such as jewellery. The glass is formed from cooled viscous lava in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. It contains a high component of silica and is very hard. It is usually black, although in iron rich areas in may be red or brownish.

The first manufactured glass was made circa 3500 BC

There is no definitive evidence as to the exact place or date the first glass was manufactured, but researchers believe it was around 3500 BC, in Ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia. However it was very much a luxury decorative item rather than a construction material. 

Evidence of more widespread use of glass has been found across the former Roman Empire and Anglo-Saxon era England. There are examples of beads, jewellery, drinking cups, and stained-glass windows, which suggests that new more sophisticated techniques of making and moulding glass had been discovered. 

Adding lead oxide revolutionised glass production

In 1674, an Englishman called George Ravenscroft revolutionised glass production by adding lead oxide to molten glass. It made it easier to melt and shape, and the glass was clearer, making it quicker to manufacture and suitable for windows and glasshouses. This put England at the heart of glass production for the next two centuries. 

The English had to pay window tax in the 16th century

The English government were soon collecting healthy tax profits from the thriving glass industry. William III decided to capitalise on the more widespread use of glass windows in domestic properties by introducing the controversial ‘Window Tax’ in 1696. The tax was banded depending on how many windows a house had. 

Initially, houses with fewer than 10 windows were exempt from window tax, but had to pay a two shilling house tax. Houses with over 10 windows had to pay progressively higher taxes, depending on the number of windows. It was intended to be a fair system to tax those who could afford to pay.

However, in rapidly expanding urban areas, many people lived in large tenement houses that had been subdivided many times. The landlord was responsible for paying the window tax rather than the tenants, and many landlords responded by simply boarding or bricking up windows to avoid paying the tax.

The situation was made worse by an overly strict interpretation of what consisted of a window. In fact, it didn’t even have to contain glass, and even small grates could be classed as a window. As a result, many properties were deliberately deprived of vital ventilation and light, leading to a marked decline in the health of the population. 

By 1851, a national campaign against the tax finally succeeded, and it was repealed. 

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