Last week I celebrated a birthday – or what I like to think of as the anniversary of the year I turned 39! As is the tradition in our family, we enjoy a glass or two of champagne to celebrate birthdays and focus on the fact that we get to be a year older rather than mourn any lost youth.
As we clinked glasses, I began to get curious about the history of glass, which has been used for centuries to store beverages, food, chemicals and cosmetics. The widespread use of glass as a storage vessel throughout history highlights the material’s resilience and functionality. Did you know that glass fibers are even used to carry the signals that power the internet? So essential is glass to human development that the United Nations named 2022 the International Year of Glass to celebrate its contribution to cultural and scientific development.
Ancient civilizations began using naturally occurring obsidian/volcanic glass for production of knives, arrowheads, jewelry and money. Archaeologists believe that the first man made glass was developed in Egypt and Eastern Mesopotamia about 4,000 years ago, and 2,000 years later, glass-made drinking vessels were invented. The Eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea was an important center for glass manufacturing. It was a very slow process, but by the 1st century BC, Syrian craftsmen invented the blow pipe which made glass production easier, faster and cheaper.
The Roman Empire excelled at making glass and spread this skill to all the countries it dominated throughout Europe. Thought to date back to around 325 AD, the Speyer wine bottle is believed to be the world’s oldest bottle of wine. Now held in the Wine Museum in the German city of Speyer, where it was rediscovered in 1867, it still remains unopened today. An analysis of its contents revealed that it holds an alcohol-based liquid, although we can be pretty sure that it would not make for good drinking!
By the 13th and 14th centuries, Venice in Italy had become the glass-making center of the western world and the Venetians spread their expertise throughout Europe. The craft had developed so much that Europeans created gorgeous stained-glass windows in churches and cathedrals. By 1575, English glassmakers were making glass in Venetian fashion and a century later an English glassmaker George Ravenscroft invented lead glass. Early colonists brought the skill across the Atlantic and the first glass factory in the United States was built in Jamestown, Virginia in 1608.
The next big breakthrough came in the1820s, when the age of blowing individual bottles, glasses and flasks was ended by the invention of a hand-operated machine. Fifty years later, the first semi-automatic bottle machine was introduced. Technology continued to improve and by 1959, the revolutionary float glass production system was introduced by Englishman Sir Alastair Pilkington by which 90% of flat glass is still manufactured today.
Glass has sometimes been referred to as a material which can be infinitely recycled without it impacting its quality, purity or durability. When left in the natural environment, it is much less likely to cause pollution than plastic. However, as glass is made from huge amounts of silica, a type of sand, there are concerns about the fast depletion of this natural resource.
Back to the clinking of my birthday bubbly, I wondered why do we clink glasses? The history of the custom is unclear, although it dates to medieval times. During a search, two theories caught my eye.
The first – wines in the middle ages were occasionally spiked with poison as a favorite way to get rid of someone since the sediment in wine could conceal poisons well. If a host wanted to prove that his wine wasn’t poisoned, he would drink it first to prove it was safe. If the guest trusted his host, they would clink glasses as a sign of goodwill and friendship, and then drink together.
The second I read about some years ago in a James Bond novel: good wine can be enjoyed with four of our senses. We can see its color, smell its bouquet, feel it as we drink from nice glassware, and of course taste it. By clinking glasses, it allows us to enjoy it with all five senses. I am not sure if this is historically accurate, but it makes for a good story!
There is more information at www.bbc.com and www.britannica.com.
I say goodbye this week with a wise quote from Simon Sinek, a British-born American author and inspirational speaker. “People who wonder if the glass is half full or half empty, miss the point. The glass is refillable.”
God Bless America!
– ENDS –
Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her full service marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com