Glass has fascinated cultures throughout the world for thousands of years. The earliest examples we have of glass are from ancient Mesopotamia around 3500 B.C.E.
Due to the favorable conditions in Egypt for preservation we have many examples of glassware, some of which were imported from other cultures. Egyptians are credited with the invention of the blowpipe, which Romans subsequently adopted and used to create glass not only for the table and decorative use, but also for windows and floor tiles.
For the Roman world, glass became an inexpensive option when compared to pottery vessels. Jewish glass blowers in Alexandria discovered clear glass around 100 C.E., leading to the use of glass for architectural purposes.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the 13th century that the glassware industry began to develop, specifically in Venice, Italy. The city became a haven for artisans who fled west from Constantinople to escape fighting during the Fourth Crusade. Fear that the growing number of refineries could cause a fire pushed Venetian glass to the island of Murano in 1291. Murano became the center of glass for centuries u0096 the artists of this island defined many of the techniques, designs, and materials that are still used today.
By 1500, Venetian artisans developed vibrant colored glass. Until then, all glass was opaque or tinted. Venetians also discovered a method for producing cristallo, a transparent clear product. As with china, the process took many years to spread throughout the world, but by 1600, French and German manufacturing was well under way.
Germans further improved the product by replacing soda ash with potash and lime creating what is called Bohemian Glass. The English followed by adding lead oxide, creating what we recognize today as traditional crystal with its characteristic sparkle, weight, and ring.
Pewter and wood were the most common drinkware in the average American home until the early 19th century since most people, until then, could not afford glassware.
The Sandwich Glass factory opened in 1825 in Cape Cod and its new mass production techniques finally made glass tableware abundant and affordable for Americans.