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Fascinating facts about the invention
of Safety Glass by Edouard Benedictus in 1903.
SAFETY GLASS
Today safety glass, which will not splinter when exposed to shock, is everywhere-in windshields for cars, goggles for machinists, and windows and doors for many public buildings. Essential as it is, safety glass was the result of a clumsy mistake. Edouard Benedictus, a French scientist, was working in his laboratory. The year was 1903. Benedictus climbed a ladder to fetch reagents from a shelf and inadvertently knocked a glass flask to the floor. He heard the glass shatter, but when he glanced down, to his astonishment the broken pieces of the flask still hung together, more or less in their original contour.
On questioning an assistant, Benedictus learned that the flask had recently held a solution of cellulose nitrate, a liquid plastic, which had evaporated, apparently depositing a thin coating of plastic on the flask’s interior. Because the flask appeared cleaned, the assistant, in haste, had not washed it but returned it directly to the shelf.

As one accident had led Benedictus to the discovery, a series of other accidents directed him toward its application. In 1903, automobile driving was a new and often dangerous hobby among Parisians. The very week of Benedictus’s laboratory discovery, a Paris newspaper ran a feature article on the recent rash of automobile accidents. When Benedictus read that most of the drivers seriously injured had been cut by shattered glass windshields, he knew that his unique glass could save lives.

As he recorded in his diary: "Suddenly there appeared before my eyes an image of the broken flask. I leapt up, dashed to my laboratory, and concentrated on the practical possibilities of my idea.,, For twenty-four hours straight, he experimented with coating glass with liquid plastic, then shattering it. "By the following evening," he wrote, "I had produced my first piece of Triplex [safety glass]-full of promise for the future." Unfortunately, automakers, struggling to keep down the price of their new luxury products, were uninterested in the costly safety glass for windshields. The prevalent attitude was that driving safety was largely in the hands of the driver, not the manufacturer. Safety measures were incorporated into automobile design to prevent an accident but not to minimize injury if an accident occurred.

It was not until the outbreak of World War I that safety glass found its first practical, wide-scale application: as the lenses for gas masks. Manufacturers found it relatively easy and inexpensive to fashion small ovals of laminated safety glass, and the lenses provided military personnel with a kind of protection that was desperately needed but had been impossible until that time. After automobile executives examined the proven performance of the new glass under the extreme conditions of battle, safety glass’s major application became car windshields.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
Chemistry History   from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:

The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle: And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson / Paperback - 128 pages (1999) / Puffin
Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident, from animal crackers to the zipper.
Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things
by Charles Panati / Paperback - 480 pages Reissue edition (September 1989) / HarperCollins
Discover the fascinating stories behind the origins of over 500 everyday items, expressions and customs.

ON THE WEB:
Plastic Sandwich Could Revolutionize Car Windows
Motorists could reap significant benefits from new research. Auto Glass Technology News.
(URL: www.glasslinks.com/newsinfo/auto_plastic.htm)
Corning Museum of Glass
Little is known about the first attempts to make glass.
(URL: www.cmog.org/)
DuPont Benedictus Awards
The DuPont Benedictus Awards program is an annual international competition for both student and professional architects to recognize significant and enterprising architectural uses of laminated glass.
(URL: www.dupontbenedictus.com/JudgesBios.htm)
New Developments in Safety Glass
Article by Scott Memmer. Lot of COOKIES at this site.
(URL: www.edmunds.com/ownership/safety/articles/43816/article.html)

HOW IT WORKS:
Glass and Windows
Article by Louis A. Bloomfield, Professor of Physics, The University of Virginia
(URL: rabi.phys.virginia.edu/HTW//windows_and_glass.html)

Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised Jaruary, 2005.
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