The first instance of glass in history began
some 26 million years ago in the Libyan
Desert. No one's sure what happened, but it
certainly was hot--hot enough to melt the
sands (grains of silica) and fuse them into
One fragment of that glass was formed into a
scarab beetle at the center of a pectoral
brooch belonging to Pharaoh Tutankhamun.
The fall of Constantinople in 1204 sent
glassmakers from Turkey to Venice. The
high temperatures demanded by their work,
together with the wooden structures of the
city at the time, caused frequent fires. In
1291, the city government exiled the
glassmakers to the island of Murano in the
Venetian Lagoon. As the great number of
experts crowded into a small area created
innovations, Murano became known as the
island of Glass.
The beautiful and decorative stained glass
windows of the medieval cathedrals were
made by adding powdered metals to sand
and wood ash. To assemble the windows,
pieces of glass were fitted into H-shaped
strips of lead soldered together for security.
Putty was inserted between the glass and
the lead for waterproofing.
Perhaps the greatest use of glass today is in
the windows of those new cathedrals to
commerce, the highrise office buildings in
central cities like Los Angeles (below).