A Window to the Past: A History of Glass Windows

Triple-glazing, R-values, special films—today’s windows are marvels of manufacturing and technological advancements that few of us give any thought to. Windows do more than let in the light. They keep our buildings comfortable, add beauty, and keep out things we don’t want to enter: insects, weather, animals, dust, dirt, and more. So how did we get to this amazing point in the world of windows?

Earliest Window Coverings

While the basic ingredients of glass are simple… wood ash, different oxides, and sand… turning those into glass, and even more complicated… panes of glass, is a bit more challenging. Before technology was developed to easily make glass panes for windows, they were often simply left as open spaces to let in air and light, but covered with a variety of materials as needed, including tanned hides, thin pieces of horn, paper, oiled cloth, and other materials. In wealthier, more technologically advanced cities, such as ancient Pompeii, some paned glass windows were used—a sure sign of luxury! These let in the light, but they weren’t thin or flat enough to really see-through.

Medieval and Renaissance Glass Windows

Anyone who has seen the glorious cathedral windows of Europe knows how skilled the stained-glass artisans of the Middle Ages were. Some of these spectacular works of art are nearly a thousand years old, illustrating how durable glass windows can be. Expensive and time-consuming to make, glass windows were primarily saved for cathedrals where they were almost always stained glass. A few homes had crown glass windows which were made by flattening a blown blob of glass into a thick, round disk. Into the Renaissance period, wealthy homes began to incorporate more glass windows, often thick and with a greenish tinge from the iron content in the sand used to make the glass.

Glass Windows Arrive in Homes

By the early 17th century, glass windows were becoming more common in private homes. These windows were thicker and less perfectly smooth than those we use today, and until fairly recent times, they often had small bubbles and other imperfections. Because glass was still rather expensive, most windows until modern times were made with metal or wooden frameworks allowing smaller pieces of glass to be pieced together to fill a larger window opening.

Modern Glass Windows

Until the late 1600s, most windows were either non-opening or casement windows that opened on a single hinged side. Around 1700, double-hung window technology was developed, allowing more flexibility for adjusting window openings, and less vulnerability to wind gusts and other hazards for casement windows. At the same time, glass was becoming thinner, clearer, and less expensive to produce, making it available to more people. 

By the early Victorian era, technological advancements in glass production meant that plate glass could now be made. This allowed larger panes of thinner glass, and single-pane windows became more popular than their gridded predecessors. Finally, nearly anyone could have windows in their homes.

Technology Makes Windows Amazing & Versatile

Entering the late 19th and early 20th century, window technology advanced at a spectacular pace. Rolled-steel frames, round windows, and other special designs were hallmarks of the late Victorian and Arts and Crafts styles. The space-age innovations of the 1950s launched the aluminum-framed windows and float glass we rely on today, along with other advancements enabling curtain walls and insulated windows. Additional improvements since the 1950s include popular vinyl windows, energy-saving low-E windows, protective hurricane glass, and new framing materials including those based on fiberglass and others that aid in reducing heat transfer.

Window Advancements from FreMarq Innovations

Because we rely on windows and curtain walls to be a physical and thermal barrier between the outside and inside environments, their ability to block heat transfer is critical. Our industry-leading Zero•Net™ products take advantage of our FortMax™ technology to provide a superior thermal barrier. Whether in new construction or a building retrofit, our curtain wall and fixed window systems are designed for performance.

At FreMarq Innovations, our expert team is ready to give your building the energy efficiency you need with the design flexibility you want. Contact us today to take advantage of our expertise.


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