- Written by Michael McKinney
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The ancient Pheonicians and Egyptians were two civilizations that made glass, and both of them made glass into fibers, or made fiberglass. Many other civilizations had access to glass fibers. Of these, most made a small amount of the glass fiber at a time, and the fiber that they did make was very coarse. They used this fiber for decoration, unaware of the potential that lay within it.
In 1870, a man named John Player developed a process of mass producing glass strands with a steam jet process to make what was called mineral wool. This material was used as an effective insulation.
In 1880 Herman Hammesfahr was awarded a patent for a type of fiberglass cloth. This fiberglass cloth had silk interwoven with it. It was both durable and flame retardent.
The first glass fibers of the type that we know today as fiberglass were made through an accident, as many advancements in science have been. Dale Kleist, a young researcher for Corning Glass had been attempting to weld two glass blocks together to form an airtight seal. Unexpectedly, a jet of compressed air hit a stream of the molten glass and created a shower of glass fibers, showing Dale an easy method to create fiberglass.
In 1935, Corning Glass joined with Owens-Illinois, another company that had been experimenting with fiberglass, to develop the product further. In 1936, they patented the product "Fiberglas", with only 1 "s.", and then in 1938 the two companies merged to become Owens-Corning, which is still in existance today.
In the late 1930’s to early 1940’s they researched the idea of spinning the fibers into a cloth like material. In 1941, experiments progressed with heat cleaning and treating Fiberglas cloth. The heat treatment gave the cloth more flexibility, and proved to be key in making Fiberglas fibers suitable for use as reinforcements in plastic laminates.
In 1936, Carlton Ellis of DuPont was awarded a patent for polyester resin. Polyester resin is something that can be combined with Fiberglas to produce a composite.
The germans furthered the manufacturing process of polyester resin by refining its curing process. During World War II British intelligence agents stole secrets for the resin from the germans and turned them over to American firms. American Cyanamid produced the direct forerunner of todays polyester resin in 1942.
As early as 1942, Owens-Corning was producing fiberglass and polyester airplane parts for the war effort. These were low pressure plastic laminates made from the patented Fiberglass cloth impregnated with the resin.
The earliest reference to a composite boat having been made was around 1937, made by Ray Greene. Ray had been working with Owens Corning on fiberglass composites. While he did make a composite sailboat, he did not attempt to capitalize upon the idea, because he was looking for just the right plastic for the resin of the composite. In 1942, he produced a daysailer made with a polyester resin/fiberglass composite.
And, today, almost every family in America has some sort of fiberglass item. Perhaps it is a water faucet, or a shower stall, or a bathtub. Perhaps it is a car, or a boat. Or perhaps there is fiberglass insulation in the walls. The list of uses for fiberglass composites may go on nearly forever.
Let's also never forget Bill Tritt who was producing fiberglass spars for small sailboats back in the late 1940s, thus the name "Glasspar".