Today in History: Accidental Inventor of Safety Glass is Born

Today in History: Accidental Inventor of Safety Glass is Born

M.C. Millman

Like many other innovative findings, the discovery of safety glass began as an accident that has changed our lives for the better. 

French chemist, artist, and inventor Édouard Bénédictus was born on June 29, 1878. One day in 1903, Édouard was in the lab when he needed to reach some chemicals stored on a high shelf. He grabbed his ladder to get them and, on the way, accidentally knocked over a glass beaker on the shelf below. To his surprise, the beaker cracked, but its form remained completely intact. 

Upon further investigation, Édouard put the pieces together (figuratively) and realized that the solution inside the beaker, plastic cellulose, was the cause of this strange phenomenon. While scientists are always taught to clean their tools to ensure that experiments are as accurate as possible, it seems Édouard's assistant got lazy on the job. The plastic cellulose had evaporated, leaving a thin plastic film, and ultimately held the shards of glass together upon impact. 

At the time, Édouard viewed his discovery as no more than a strange occurrence. However, in the following years, he began hearing about terrible accidents involving glass shards from vehicle collisions. Recalling the glass incident in 1903, Édouard worked on making windshields that would hold together when broken. 

According to McGill, in 1909, Édouard patented TriPlexTM, a laminate made from two glass sheets with a middle layer of clear plastic. He named it TriPlex after the three layers.  

While the glass did not take off immediately for vehicles, its first primary use was during World War I for face shields. According to McGill, TriPlex became a standard item in American automobiles in the 1920s. 

Édouard died in 1930, shortly after his invention took off, yet his discovery is still widely used. Laminated or tempered glass is mandated in all vehicle windshields today.

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