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
- North West
- St Helen's, Lancashire
- Key Individuals
- Alastair Pilkington,