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Consumers Choice Award 2014 Winner

A History of Glass Windows

If you’ve read our previous entries on the learning page, you know that we love windows of all shapes and sizes, and love how they contribute to a home’s feel and function. A large bay window will completely open up your home to the world and offer outstanding views; casement windows bring in the fresh air and natural light without sacrificing privacy. The options for the modern homeowner are endless. But it wasn’t long ago that glass windows were an immense luxury. The introduction of glass windows to the public revolutionized the design of businesses and homes alike, which is why our team took a few moments to delve into window history and appreciate what we sometimes take for granted – beautiful, affordable glass windows.

A Life Without Glass

The first windows were obviously made without glass, but what may surprise you is the materials used to make windows back then. Of course, the earliest windows were simply holes in the wall to let in natural light, but later thin animal hide was stretched over the hole to add some elemental protection while still letting in soft light. Shutters were used that could be closed when the weather got bad to protect those inside.

Early Glass

During the Roman era, glass making was rather advanced. Panes of glassy pebbles were laid in wooden frames that could let some light through but were not transparent. The introduction of clear glass panes came about in the late 3rd century, when blown glass cylinders were created and then thinly sliced to make curvy pieces of transparent glass.

Back to Basics

Sadly, when the Roman Empire collapsed and history entered the Dark Ages, we lost this technology. Cathedrals would still create stained glass windows using small pieces of glass, for the masses this was no longer available, and the return of wooden shutters and thin animal hides were used. Windows had to remain small, and insulating the animal hide covered holes was near impossible. People turned to the use of thinly sliced pieces of horn fastened together to better insulate, but these windows were costly to produce and saw little use among common homes.

Windows Make A Comeback

Then, glass makers in the Middle Ages began to develop the glass window once again. The French developed crown glass – a hollow bubble spun into flattened discs and laced together in lead panes (the image above is a great example of crown glass). Other glass makers also “discovered” the cylinder glass technique used by Romans more than a millennium before, but this time the technology was here to stay – and glass entered the homes of the wealthy – yet even for them it was incredibly expensive. Nobles would often routinely take their glass panes down and store them carefully when they weren’t in their homes to ensure they were not broken.

Versailles – A Legacy in the Window Industry

In the late 17th century, the French continued improving glass technology, and the clear glass window pane was cast. The Palace of Versailles – built in the 1680s – used this new and expensive technology to create the long-latticed windows that French Doors and Windows are still known for today. Yet again, glass was still quite a luxury. Apart from the wealthy, the layman of this period could only dream of having a clear glass covering for their windows.

Glass for the Masses

Glass would continue to be a luxury despite improved methods for creating it for many years. England eventually repealed duties on windows which reduced its price by about 50% in the early 19th century. People had never seen so many glass windows, and could finally afford it!

Later, the use of steel as load-bearing columns in architecture allowed for the installation of “curtain walls.” Large floor to ceiling windows could now be used in designs, as the wall no longer needed to support the weight of the structure, leading to the modern skyscraper look of the early 20th century.

The evolution of the glass window is surprisingly recent for an item we routinely take for granted. Many are conscious of how much the auto industry or the internet have revolutionized the lives of the common people, but the introduction of glass windows not only changed the designs capable for the people – it completely changed our indoor environment – insulated windows make temperature control possible, and large clear windows are shown to increase happiness and productivity! Imagine your office life with the wind, rain, smells, and noises of the outside world constantly pouring in through a hole in the wall, and take some time to thank your glass windows for all that they do for our modern lifestyles.

Contact us to learn more about Beverley Hills glass products and the quality of our windows.