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| Jun 9, 2022

Glass Innovations That Shaped the Modern World

The one material that has had the greatest impact on shaping the world as we know it is glass. Here's why.

Since first discovering the world of glass art, I have been exploring the myriad ways in which glass has changed the world. I don’t just mean the world of art. Glass innovations have shaped and molded scientific and technological advancements to create the modern world as we know it. 

Without these innovations, we could never have evolved into a society so rich with scientific exploration, architectural achievements, and medical advancements. In fact, I don’t believe society totally understands the importance of glass as a medium, from the lenses we wear on our faces to the glass fiber-optic cables extending across the Atlantic making the global Internet possible. As far as innovations go, glass is mostly taken for granted – a fact that I have made my mission to change. One of my purposes is to elevate glass from the commonplace to the extraordinary.  

The Evolution of Glass

When the Gutenberg Printing Press was invented in the 1400s, a new age of literacy began. Shortly after, many people noticed they couldn’t focus their vision well enough to read the words on the page. Enter the science of glass.

While the science of sight-correcting lenses had been around for about a century, it wasn’t until the Renaissance era that glass innovators improved upon the science and made eyeglasses available to the modern world. With this, society was thrust into an age of learning and academic scholarship.

The Scientific Revolution

A couple of hundred years later, scientists turned their spectacled eyes toward the heavens and crafted the telescope. Building upon the foundation set by sight-correcting optics, Galileo fashioned telescopes with increasingly higher magnifying power. His final prototypes were over four feet long and magnified objects up to 30 times. 

With this instrument, Galileo was able to observe the skies with more sophistication. From his observations, he theorized that the earth moves around the sun, a discovery that shifted the future of science and space exploration permanently. Man’s viewpoint changed completely from thinking we were the center of the universe to knowing we were not!

The World In Microcosm

Not long after, scientists began to consider new frontiers. If Galileo could use glass to peer into the heavens, perhaps glass could also open a window into something almost as vast: the microscopic world. Moving glass into the 18th century, Anton van Leeuwenhoek became the first to identify bacteria under a microscope. 

While he used a scope with only one lens, other scientists developed an improved method using two lenses. This opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Magnification became larger and clearer, and it placed glass at the vanguard of a scientific revolution that spanned biology, physics, and chemistry. 

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Through the Looking Glass

In the 18th century, the French discovered a new and different use for glass – social identity. The popularization of mirrors in Europe was due, in part, to a growing appreciation for light and optics. When used as decor, mirrors create the illusion of space. With their reflective nature, they offer additional lighting while making rooms appear larger and more spacious. However, because of their fragility, they were difficult to ship. Thus, only the wealthiest could afford them.

As their popularity grew, the economy grew with them. Local mirror manufacturing centers began to pop up across Europe to meet demand. With increased availability, mirrors began to find their way into the homes of the middle class. They became symbolic not only of affluence but also of social image. Hand mirrors led people to ask “who am I?” and moved us into an age of self-reflection and introspection.

Using Glass for its Strength

In one of my favorite books, “How We Got to Now” by Steven Johnson, he talks about how glass evolved into a material of strength. In the mid-20th century, glass fibers were wound together to form fiberglass which began being used just about everywhere: clothes, surfboards, helmets, home insulation, and even circuit boards in computers.

A Transition to Art

Only recently has glass transitioned from science to art. In the 1960s, creative artists brought what was once only available in industrial settings to art studios in America. Equipped only with a modest furnace and rudimentary skills, the first innovators of studio glass revolutionized contemporary art. 

For those of us who understand art as a transcendental experience, our passion for glass sculpting is extremely sacred. It’s the closest we can get to channeling our own light, imaginations, thoughts, and ideas, perhaps even our higher, spiritual selves. When I first began my artistic journey, fellow glass artist Chuck Boux generously allowed me to use his studio. After I had created my first piece there, he gave me one of the most memorable compliments I have ever received. He said, “You open a portal to serenity that I have never seen before.”

Soon, I became enchanted with the beauty of glass. My house was filled with glass art, to the point where my children approached me and said, “Mom, you have too much glass in the house.” I jokingly replied that I would have to open a museum, and that’s exactly what I went on to do. 

Sharing the majesty of glass has since become one of my main purposes and I encourage you to experience glass art for yourself. Use it as inspiration to create a brighter future. Peer into the looking glass and let it inspire your own self-awareness, creativity, and imagination.  

There is no substitute for being positive and having a positive outlook. The most valuable asset we have is our imagination. This gives us the ability to create brighter futures and help mankind.

Trish Duggan
Executive Author

Founder, Imagine Museum

Trish Duggan is an accomplished artist, a human rights advocate, and a dedicated philanthropist who has committed much of her life and work toward improving the lives of human beings globally. view profile

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