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The History of Glass

Updated on 13 December, 2022
Mrinal Mandal

Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

The reading section of the IELTS examination comprises passages and subsequent questions for candidates to answer. It is a crucial part of the IELTS exam, and proper preparation can help increase the overall band score and aid admission to prestigious universities. Amplify your practice to boost your results with our IELTS reading sample of ‘The History of Glass’ with answers

The History of the most versatile material, from Egypt to Europe

The history of glass traces its origins to Mesopotamia, Northern Syria, and Egypt an estimated 3,600 years ago. However, Egypt has been synonymous with effective preservation methods, allowing Archaeologists to study the remnants of early glass in the country and understand its preparation. Archaeological studies have also proved that some of the glass was imported.

Before the emergence of glass, humans relied on volcanic glass, Obsidian to sharpen cutting tools and enhance their edges. The material was limited in number and hence, extensively traded between communities. Archaeologists found evidence of beads, considered the earliest form of glass products, in the mid-third millennium BCE. Stone-covered beads acted as one of the earliest pieces of evidence of artificial glass. These are believed to have been created accidentally during metalworking or faience production.

Advancements in glassmaking started in Egypt during the late bronze age, 1200 BC. The presence of items like colored glass ingots, vessels and beads point out extensive know-how of glassmaking technology. Early raw materials used to prepare glass contained significant impurities, contributing to the color of the vessels. However, it wasn't until the Romans that glassmaking technology witnessed a new life.

Romans prepared glass using ground seashells and hardwood ash. They were also well-versed in making colorized glass with consistent shades using metallic oxides as colourizers. The colors and tints observed in the era were reproduced with unmatched accuracy, a skill that the rest of the world won't pick up until years later. The Romans used elements like copper, manganese, iron and tin to recreate multiple tints and impart a unique pattern to each of them.

By the arrival of AD 200, Romans were producing superior glass while the rest of Europe was experiencing a hit. After the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, their glassmaking technology was introduced to the rest of Europe. When the Venetians made contact with the ancient Roman Empire, they incorporated their innovations and discoveries along with the methods of the empire. They began to specialize in creating soda-lime glass and incurred fame in the 10th century for their glass bottles. Eventually, Venetian exports gained widespread popularity in Europe.

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However, glassmaking technology only improved with lead oxide's introduction into molten glass in the 17th century. Helmed by George Ravenscroft in 1674, this discovery enhanced the appearance of glass and provided a way to melt it quickly with furnace fuels like sea coal. The lifespan of the glass was also improved, allowing manufacturers to manipulate its shape and structure easily. Ravenscroft was the first individual to create clear lead crystal glassware to address and eliminate the issue of clouding that was widely prevalent in blown glass. Ravenscroft was the first individual to develop clear lead crystal glassware to address and eliminate the problem of clouding that was widely prevalent in blown glass. This was the first time England had managed to beat the Venetian innovation, resulting in the former supplementing its place as the world's glass industry.

Ravenscroft applied for a patent for this innovation, which expired in 1696. Immediately upon the expiry, England witnessed the emergence of glasshouses that specialized in manufacturing flint glass and transported it throughout Europe. The popularity compelled the British government to levy a tax to bank on the profits. However, the mammoth taxes could not pause the activities of the industry, as companies began to experiment with excise glasses. Eventually, the tax was repealed in 1845, causing relief in the industry and leading to a development in the glass production process.

Before 1851, glass was never believed to be a strong building material. But with the construction of the Crystal Palace, manufacturers began to eye this market. Joseph Paxton built the palace to house the Great Exhibition, an international event with world fairs and cultural activities. Gradually, glass began to have broad applications in horticultural and agricultural architecture. Just before that, 1832 witnessed the formation of the British Crown Glass Company. With the assistance of renowned French glassmaker Georges Bontemps, they were the first to use the cylinder method to create sheet glass. This creation was later helpful in designing extensive glass roofs within railway stations.

The next significant advancement was in 1887 when HM Ashley developed a machine that could produce 200 bottles per hour – the quickest during that time. It was a transition period, as glassmaking was increasingly becoming a semi-automatic process. With his machine, HM Ashley promised higher output than all his competitors. 

However, it wasn't until 1907 that the industry witnessed the creation of a completely automated machine with an estimated output of 2,500 bottles per hour. It was designed by Michael Owens, a US resident, for his own company, the Owens Bottle Machine Company. While it took other glass manufacturers an estimated seven to eight years to replicate this technology, the perception of glass changed. Now, it was considered a part of science instead of a craft. 

Modern glassmaking is a massive business that uses automated machines to achieve high outputs. It relies on the float glass process to produce a sheet of glass and glassblowing processes to design containers. It is an energy-intensive process with the flexibility to mold the containers into the desired shape. With a focus on sustainability, glass is encouraged as a recyclable material. It can also be reused to cater to multiple applications like storage. Additionally, the recycling of glass is an energy-friendly process, as it saves significant energy compared to the production of new glass using raw materials. Ultimately, it also saves fuel and production costs. Glass is one of the best alternatives in the market, offering a mix of style and durability.

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Questions 1-8

Complete the notes below.

Choose ONE WORD ONLY from the passage for each answer.

Write your answers in boxes 1-8 on your answer sheet

  1. Early humans used a 1

Answer: Obsidian

Explanation: According to the history of glass reading IELTS sample, the answer is in line 5, second paragraph, where the author explicitly states that the volcanic glass, Obsidian, was used by early humans before the modern form of glass was created.

  1. To make the sharp points of their 2

Answer: Cutting tools

Explanation: As provided in line 6, paragraph 2, Obsidian was used to sharpen the cutting tools used by early humans. Before glass was created and perfected, Obsidian acted as the material for enhancing the tips of hunting materials. 

  1. 4000 BC: made of stone were covered in a coating of man-made glass

Answer: Beads

Explanation: In the IELTS reading sample of the history of glass, the answer is provided on lines 8-9, paragraph two. The author claims that one of the earliest pieces of evidence of glass-resembling materials were beads with a stone covering. These beads were accidentally obtained as by-products of the metalworking process or faience production.

  1. First century BC: glass was colored because of the in the material.

Answer: Impurities

Explanation: The earliest glass was not colorless due to the presence of impurities in the material, as said in lines 14-15, paragraph three. The evidence is the presence of colored glass vessels excavated from the Roman Empire's remnants.
 

  1. Until 476 AD: Only the 5 knew how to make glass.

Answer: Romans

Explanation: The answer in the IELTS reading sample of the history of glass claims that the Romans were the only ones familiar with glass production until 476 AD. After the collapse of the Roman empire, glassmaking technology was introduced to the world.

  1. 17th century: George Ravenscroft developed a process using 6

Answer: Lead

Explanation: In paragraph 6, the author talks about a significant innovation in the 19th century, when George Ravenscroft used lead to develop the glassmaking process. The presence of lead provided a massive boost to the glassblowing process.

  1. To avoid the occurrence of in blown glass.

Answer: Clouding

Explanation: The answer is in lines 5 to 7 of paragraph six in the IELTS reading sample of the history of glass. Before the introduction of lead, the author claims that clouding was a widely prevalent occurrence that significantly impacted the process. 

  1. Mid-19th century: British glass production developed after changes to laws concerning 8

Answer: Taxes

Explanation: When the British glass industry was booming after the expiration of Ravenscroft's patent, the government levied a tax on glass production to regulate the industry. However, the taxes were eventually repealed.

Questions 9-13

In boxes 9-13 on your answer sheet, write

TRUE    if the statement agrees with the information

FALSE if the statement contradicts the information

NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this

  1. ________ In 1887, HM Ashley had the fastest bottle-producing machine that existed at the time.

Answer: True

Explanation: As explained in paragraph 10, lines 1-2, 1887 was a transformative period as glass manufacturers turned to semi-automatic production to increase efficiency. At this time, HM Ashley gained an edge over the competitors as he developed a machine with an output of 200 bottles per hour, significantly higher than any other machine.

  1. _______ Michael Owens was hired by a large US company to design a fully-automated bottle manufacturing machine for them.

Answer: False

Explanation: In paragraph 11, lines 2-3, it is stated that Michael Owens did not create the automated bottle machine for an external company. In fact, he made it to increase the output of his own company, the Owens Bottle Machine Company. With an excellent output of 2,500 bottles per hour, the technology gave them a significant advantage over other companies.

  1. _____ Nowadays, most glass is produced by large international manufacturers.

Answer: Not given

Explanation: Nowhere in the passage is it mentioned or implied that large international manufacturers dominate the glass industry. The passage only claims that glassmaking has evolved to become a highly profitable industry.

  1. _______ Concern for the environment is leading to an increased demand for glass containers.

Answer: True

Explanation: In paragraph 12, lines 5-6, the widespread adoption of glass containers is occurring due to the need for sustainability. Since glass containers can be reused for multiple applications and recycled to make glass bottles, beads, and other construction materials to prevent wastage.

  1. ______It is more expensive to produce recycled glass than to manufacture new glass.

Answer: False

Explanation: Lines 6-8 in paragraph 12 discuss the benefits of recycling glass. Not only does recycling consume less energy than designing new glass from raw materials, but it also saves production costs and fuel consumption.

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