The earliest bottles were made by a core of clay or sand being attached to the end of a rod which was then dipped into molten glass repeatedly and rolled in between on a flat surface until the layers had built up to form the required shape.
Glassblowing as such came, it is thought, in the 1st century BC. The early glassblowers were the Egyptians located mainly in Alexandria.
A deed of 1226 makes reference to land being granted in the UK to an immigrant glass maker from Normandy. Throughout the 14th to the 17th century the migration continued with French, Huguenot and Venetian glass makers arriving in Britain and becoming well established throughout the country.
In 1695 we see what might be called the forerunner of Container Deposit Legislation (CDL) with excise duty being imposed on the glass industry. It was then reduced and repealed in successive years on the grounds of being vexatious and troublesome (not unlike CDL!) However in 1745-6 duty was again imposed then doubled, trebled and finally quadrupled. Duty on what were termed "common bottles" rose to a maximum of 8s 9d per cwt ($1.31 per 50.8 kgs) an exorbitant and crippling sum for the times. With glass bottle production under the eye of the excise officers as well, the Excise Act was finally repealed in 1845 with sighs of relief from the manufacturers.
Wine bottles appeared not long after the restoration in 1660 when wine drinking was commonplace and ousting the leather and earthenware containers which had been in common use. The bottles were dark green and in some hostelries carried an embossed glass seal. The bottle gradually lost its globular shape and the sides became parallel, the neck got shorter and the cork stopper replaced wedge shaped corks which were tied down with thread and later wire.
In the 18th century domestic cooks had learnt how to preserve perishable foods in glass with the bottling of fruits and vegetables. The really big use of glass was as a container for milk and in 1887 at the Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester bottles of filtered milk and also medicated milk were exhibited. In 1894 the production of sterilised milk in swing stoppered bottles appeared. The early bottles of sterilised milk were darker in colour and had a distinctive taste. Their unique flavour was such, that despite modern advances in processing that consumers still demanded the "cooked" flavour right up until the mid 1950s.
As far as manufacture of bottles was concerned the first patent for a bottle making machine was granted to Alexander Mein in Glasgow in 1859. In 1886 Josiah Arnall and Howard Ashley in Yorkshire UK were granted a patent for the first mechanical blowing machine. This was based on the "blow and blow" principle which is still used today. It was Owens in the USA, however, that introduced the first machines to take the molten glass from the furnace and form it into bottles. This was done by suction into rotating metal pots.
The use of gobs of molten glass was developed by another American company, Harford-Fairmont. This principle is still used today, and also used in the manufacture of plastic containers.
Despite the ease with which glass shatters if dropped, the bottle is a robust container. In the case of the milk bottle, it was not unusual in the late 1940s to get as many as 55-60 journeys per bottle. The bottles were heavy and progressively the outside would get scuffed and scratched but they still functioned as a sound container. They were heavy and with daily deliveries, payloads were a significant factor.
It was not until the mid 1950s that the glass milk bottles was ousted and replaced by the carton and the plastic container. Development had not stood still however and gradually the bottle had been reduced in weight, but in its wake came reduced trippage and towards the end 20 journeys per bottle were about the maximum.
Soft drink bottles were also returnable and this continued to be the case until the late 1960s when Schweppes decided to introduce non-returnable glass bottles. This caused an outcry from the environmental lobby until they were persuaded that greater damage was being done by the caustic solutions used for cleaning coupled to the amount of energy required for the process.
Why has glass been so successful? Like the metal can it has been around for a long time and gained a reputation for reliability. It’s solid, clear and has a level of clarity which is the benchmark by which other materials are judged.
Over the years it has lightened in weight, it has benefited from coatings to give added protection or enhancement and has established itself in key areas such as beverages including soft drinks Even though the beer bottle and the wine cask have challenged the bottle, the ubiquitous glass wine bottle is still the container which has the quality image.
It is an ideal vehicle for decoration, with embossing, debossing, direct printing and as a base for labels has shown great versatility. The glass itself is a feature in its own right and with clear shrink labels the opportunities for graphic designers has been extended. As a marketing tool it offers versatility from cosmetics to beverages.
In this time of concerns about our environment and more particularly the effect of the rising price of oil on plastics production, glass has a competitive edge with its bountiful raw materials, reuse and recyclability.