Minerals, Metals, and Other Materials

Man-Made Products

Who developed fiberglass?

Coarse glass fibers were used for decoration by the ancient Egyptians. Other developments were made in Roman times. Parisian craftsman Ignace Dubus-Bonnel was granted a patent for the spinning and weaving of drawn glass strands in 1836. In 1893, the Libbey Glass Company exhibited lampshades at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago that were made of coarse glass thread woven together with silk. However, this was not a true woven glass. Between 1931 and 1939, the Owens Illinois Glass Company and the Corning Glass Works developed practical methods of making fiberglass commercially.

Once the technical problem of drawing out the glass threads to a fraction of their original thinness was solved—basically an endless strand of continuous glass filament as thin as 1/5000 of an inch (0.005 millimeters)—the industry began to produce glass fiber for thermal insulation and air filters, among other uses. When glass fibers were combined with plastics during World War II, a new material was formed. Glass fibers did for plastics what steel did for concrete—gave strength and flexibility. Glass-fiber-reinforced plastics (GFRP) became very important in modern engineering. Fiberglass combined with epoxy resins and thermosetting polyesters are now used extensively in boat and ship construction, sporting goods, automobile bodies, and circuit boards in electronics.


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