The Art of Glassmaking: Background information when reading Glass House

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Glass House

The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town

by Brian Alexander

Glass House by Brian Alexander X
Glass House by Brian Alexander
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2017, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2018, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The Art of Glassmaking

Print Review

Glass BlowingAt one point in Glass House, Brian Alexander describes his childhood experience of peering into one of the glass manufacturing plants in his home town: "Nuns had spent years engraving images of hell on my imagination. The flames shooting out of the squat stack on the roof, the white-red glow of the furnace inside, the gray shadows of the men hoisting their gatherers to collect glass from the inferno sure looked like hell." Even in the twenty-first century, glassmaking is a hot and sometimes dangerous occupation, one with a history that is thousands of years old.

Mesopotamia GlassAccording to a (scientifically dubious) account by the Roman historian Pliny, glassmaking was discovered accidentally, when Phoenician sailors heated their cooking pots and discovered the fire's heat had turned beach sand into glass. In reality, glassmaking was likely developed in ancient Mesopotamia in roughly the third millennium BCE as artisans applied high-heat techniques from ceramics or metalworking to other materials.

Over the following centuries, various cultures developed their own glassmaking techniques, and the first glassmaking "manual" dates from 650 BCE, with instructions on glassmaking appearing on tablets in the library of Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. Over the next millennia, glassmaking spread throughout a variety of cultures and geographic centers, including into Europe.

17th Century British GlassFast-forwarding a few hundred years, the era of modern glass production on an industrial scale began in the late 1600s in England, where the addition of lead oxide to molten glass greatly improved its ability to be worked on a mass scale, as well as its clarity, allowing Britain to overtake Venice in glass production. By the late 1800s, glass production was becoming automated, and in the early twentieth century in the United States, the first fully automated glassmaking machines were introduced, using techniques similar to those still used today.

Glass blowing, courtesy Alicia D. Glassworks
Glass vase from Mesopotamia, courtesy of www.ancient-origins.net
17th Century British glass, courtesy of www.antiquecolouredglass.info

Article by Norah Piehl

This article was originally published in May 2017, and has been updated for the January 2018 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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