top of page

The History Of Fiberglass

        Fiberglass has been around for a very long time. Centuries even! However the patent for fiberglass itself was issued in 1880 to a Prussian inventor named Hermann Hammesfahr who used the material to make a dress out of glass for his granddaughter which was shown at the 1904 St Louis World's fair.

        It was at this point the glass dress got the attention of women across America and Edward Libbey was then credited as the father of Fiberglass. Today's fiberglass is a different material in its entirety. No longer is it woven with silk, but it is blown into microscopic strands.

Enter Russell Games Slayter...

        This type of fiberglass was much different than the fiberglass today. Making it involved threading glass strands with silk to form sheets of shimmering fabric. This was used for a variety of materials along with the aforementioned dress. Necklaces, insulation around steam pipes, and even bandages. This fiber glass patent was later purchased by the Libbey Glass Company which was shown at the 1893 Chicago world's fair in the form of another dress, along with Thomas Edison's lightbulb and the Ferris wheel. The dress was beautiful, but quite fragile.

        Slayter graduated from Perdue University in 1921 with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. by 1931, he joined Owens-Illinois Glass Co. in Toledo, Ohio and began working on a way to mass produce glass fibers. Like most revolutionary inventions, Slayter's method was discovered completely by accident. One of Slayter's researchers (Dale Kleist) was attempting to weld 2 glass blocks together to form an airtight seal (Most likely for a vacuum chamber), when Slayter accidentally directed a jet of compressed air over the molten glass which then formed a shower of glass fibers.

        Not long after this production technique was discovered, Corning glass joined with Owens-Illinois forming the Owens Corning Fiberglass Corporation in 1938 to which Slayter became the vice-president of research and development.

        This is not the end of the story however, This part of the story is mostly the beginning, as from this point forward, The history of Fiberglass is also the history of Owens Corning as they have been the leading company on the front lines of fiberglass development. Owens Corning began developing a way to spin the fiberglass into a cloth-like material. This might invoke the days of old with Hermann Hammesfahr, but the strength of fiberglass comes from its purity and combining the material with silk would result in, not a flexible material, but a brittle fabric as was the main point of failure with Hammesfahr's dress. By 1941, Owens Corning was successful in their attempts to make fiberglass more flexible by heat treating it, making it suitable for use as reinforcement in laminates.

        September 1st, 1939, World War II started, and shocked the world. It may be sad to think about, but a lot of the modern day technologies we enjoy came from this time of strife. At the time, Germany's leader, Adolf Hitler, had his country's employment rate at 100%. Hitler and the people he surrounded himself with could be described as superstitious mad scientists. Utilizing fiberglass resin developed by Carlton Ellis of DuPont in 1936, the German military was able to improve its curing process and ramped up production of the material in order to create the war machines that Germany was well known for in this era.

        During this time, British intelligence agents stole the secrets of the resin production from the Germans and turned over the process to American government and private contractors. American Cyanamid produced the polyester resin with the same process that is used today in 1942. Also in 1942 Owens Corning had developed and produced low pressure plastic laminate from the resin technique information stolen from Germany by the British. With this material in production, Owens Corning began producing airplane parts for the war effort against Hitler.

        Owens Corning had made its debut on the Fortune 500 company list in 1955, and has made the list every year to this day. Fiberglass was in everything. Automobile Tires in 1966, Owens Corning acquired Armstrong Rubber Co and improved tires by reinforcing them with fiberglass. In 1974, the company produced insulation for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. 1977 Owens Corning Acquired Frye Roofing and began production of shingles strengthened with their fiberglass mat which replaced traditional paper mats. In 1985 Owens Corning acquired the Aerospace and Strategic Metals Group and developed fiberglass insulation that made it possible for Neil Armstrong to go to the moon!

        Today, Fiberglass is in just about everything. Computers, phones, Car bodies, Televisions, Furniture, Roofing and Insulation materials, Speakers, Tools, You name it, it's probably there. To think that all of this started because someone wanted a glass dress and a lab accident that made mass production possible and at the center of it all is Owens Corning. It is safe to say that this material has changed the world since its invention. Who knows where we'll go from here?

bottom of page