The stuff that bottles are made of

Every day, millions of bottles, cans and special-shaped containers are handled on Krones lines: in breweries, in the soft-drinks sector, at producers of spirits, still and sparkling wines, or in the food and luxury-item industries. Not many people know that this material had its origins in a campfire. We’ve browsed the history books for you.

In the second millennium BCE, a group of nomads were preparing for a chilly night in the Mesopotamian desert. They lit a large fire in the desert sand, and surrounded the fire-pit with some bits of limestone that were lying around. The next morning, when the fire had gone out, there was a glass slab at the bottom of the campfire. This is most probably how glassmaking was discovered.

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The oldest mention in our surviving records of glass being used dates back to about 1,600 BCE, and was found in the archives of Ugarit, and ancient town in what is now modern-day Syria. It’s uncertain whether glassmaking actually began in Egypt, Mesopotamia or the Turkish coast of the Levant. In the library of the Assyrian King Assurbanipal is one of the first recipes, presumptively dating back to the year 650 BCE. “Take 60 parts of sand, 180 parts of ash from   marine plants, and five parts of chalk, and you obtain glass.”

And this, basically, is precisely what the nomads did, though probably by accident and quite unintentionally: they took desert sand with a quartz content, potash from the firewood, and chalk from the limestone.

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From then on, glass was used to produce containers, panes and mosaic tiles. In the Middle Ages, the art of glass production was refined by glassblowers in Constantinople, Venice, and also in the remote forested regions of Central Europe. In 1688, in the French town of Saint-Gobain, the rolled-glass process was developed for making panes and mirrors. This was the nucleus of the today’s eponymous global conglomerate. But it was not until 1903 that the American Michael Joseph Owens, the founding father of what is nowadays the world’s leading glass manufacturer Owens-Illinois, put the preconditions in place for industrial-scale production of glass bottles, by building the first fully automatic glass machine for container glass.

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Since then, containers and bottles made of glass have celebrated an epic triumphal progress in the food and beverage industries; indeed, everyday life is now almost unimaginable without them. Whether it’s beer, wine, water, soft drinks, sparkling wine, spirits, milk – all beverages utilise this transparent material, so as to enhance their appeal to consumers either as mas-produced or customised luxury items.