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Development of ‘float’ glass

the process at the heart of the world’s glass industry North West,

Black-and-white photograph of six men in suits inspecting a piece of glass.
The original ‘float’ glass team.

When Alastair Pilkington (1920-95) set out to find an economical technique for making high-quality plate glass, he had no idea it would prove so difficult and take his Lancashire company (Pilkington Ltd) so close to financial ruin. However, seven years and nearly £7 million (£80 million in today’s money) later, Pilkington finally completed his revolutionary ‘float’ glass method. 

High-quality sheet glass was used, for example, in shop windows, mirrors and cars. Making it was a costly process involving hours of polishing and grinding the finished surface. Pilkington’s method floated a ribbon of glass on a surface of molten tin, holding it at a temperature that allowed irregularities to melt away. 

Pilkington Ltd licensed the technique to companies all over the world and ‘float’ glass rapidly became the universal technique for producing high-quality plate glass. Today it is used in skyscrapers, windscreens for cars and jet aircraft, submarine periscopes, and eyeglass lenses.

Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

Decade
Type
Chemistry,
Region
North West
Location
St Helen's, Lancashire
Key Individuals
Alastair Pilkington,