Modern Auto Glass

A Brief History of the Evolution and Impact of Modern Auto Glass

by: James Serwa

Although glass has been crafted and used by man for millennia, what concerns us here is the evolution of Modern Auto Glass and specifically windshields.

Auto Glass WindShields

When early automobiles reached the astonishing speed of thirty-five miles per hour, it became necessary to protect the occupants from the elements. Goggles were the first means of protecting the eyes of driver and passenger alike and since the eyeglass lens had been around for some time, the cost versus quality of this protective measure was relatively low. But as cars got faster and more popular, a more practical solution was necessary. (Try sticking your head out of a car window on the freeway for 30 to 45 min and see how you like it. Never mind what it does to your hair.)

The problem at the time was that there was no cost effective process of producing glass large enough and with the kind of optical clarity needed to be an effective “wind shield”.

In 1924 glass manufacturing took a quantum leap forward. Instead of being produced one sheet at a time (the batch method), the “ribbon” method was developed which yielded mass produced plate glass with far less distortion and cost. Voila!... Problem solved, right?


The Auto Glass Could Shatter

Although one could now see clearly through the glass and out to the road ahead, plate glass, when broken, creates long, lethal shards that were hardly ideal in the event of a front-end accident. The potential for a seriously nasty cut or even death was so obvious that some people flatly refused to ride in the first glass enclosed cars.

In 1927 laminated safety glass was introduced and became the standard for all automobile windshields and remains so today.

During the oil crisis of 1970’s, the American automotive industry nearly buckled under the weight of its own gas-guzzling, eight-cylinder monstrosities prompting “The Big Three” (General Motors, Ford & Chrysler) to compete with cheaper, more fuel-efficient, foreign competitors.

Enter the age of the global economy, where the cheaper the labor, the more competitive you become. In addition, American manufacturers had to improve the fuel economy of its cars.

Auto Glass as a Safety Improvement

One method of improving gas mileage was to reduce the overall weight of a vehicle. By removing heavy steel reinforcements, cars became lighter but less safe in an accident. As a means of counteracting this safety issue, glass was incorporated as a structural component of the vehicle. In order for glass to be an effective part of structural integrity, adhesives were improved to accommodate the new design.

Glass had now become more than just a “wind shield”, it literally keeps the roof from collapsing in a roll-over and ensures that, when deployed, front airbags keep the driver from a premature visit to the great outdoors.

Although windshields have remained basically the same for almost a century, the technological advances of the computer age have not been lost on the auto glass manufacturers. Some windshields now come equipped with rain sensing lenses, de-icing heating elements, infrared sensors for night vision and heads up displays like the ones used by fighter pilots. As all of these features find their way into the world of auto glass, it is imperative that glass technicians stay abreast of new developments, not only for the sake of proper installation but for the safety of a vehicle’s occupants.

About The Author

James Serwa has been the general manager of Glass On The Move ( since 1997 and is a certified auto glass installer. James’ interests in physics, automotive and electrical engineering keep him in touch with the latest developments in the automotive and auto glass industries.