A History of Windows

These days windows are as natural a part of our home as the roof and front door. We can’t imagine living anywhere without them. But it wasn’t always that way. 

In the UK we used animal horns instead of glass right up to the early 17th century. Ancient China, Korea and Japan preferred to use rice paper to cover their window frames. It wasn’t actually until the Georgian period that we became accustomed to seeing houses with windows. 

And even then, these were nothing like the large floor to ceiling versions, or sliding doors, that we have today. No, in the Georgian period windows were small, with six or eight small panes making up the one window (think Charles Dickens and the old townhouses around that period).

@PascaleTreguer: “The noun window is from Middle English windoȝe, a borrowing from Old Norse vindauga, literally wind’s eye, from vindr, wind, and auga, eye.”

Henry Bessemer and ‘float glass’

It wasn’t really until almost the mid-19th century that it became possible to automate the process of making windows, thanks to engineer Henry Bessemer. His method involved pouring glass into a liquid tin – resulting in a product known as ‘float glass.’ It was only at this point that the whole concept of large floor-to-ceiling windows became a possibility.

Double glazing and the role of the Suez Canal conflict

In the 20th century, the first patent for double glazing was awarded in America. It was the year 1930. Around 15 years later Europe was slap bang in the middle of a serious oil crisis (at the Suez Canal). As a result, governments welcomed anything that cut back their country’s reliance on fuel. Most heaters at the time were run by oil so when double glazing came along it was welcomed with open arms. To the extent that in the 1970s government’s offered grants and special deals to encourage households and house developers to adopt it. In 1994 they even altered building regulations stating it should be adopted in all New Builds where possible. By 2002 it wasn’t just New Builds that required double glazing, but replacement windows for existing homes were required to have double glazing as well.

Developments in framing

Today you will find triple glazing in homes too. Meanwhile, frames have become more energy efficient in the type of materials used to construct them. This ranges from timber, thermally broken aluminium, uPVC and timber aluminium composites.

Meanwhile, double glazing certainly made life easier on the continent. Prior to its onset there, householders were forced to use separate window sashes or fly screens which they would fit into the frames during winter and remove as spring and summer approached. At that point, these window sashes would be replaced with wooden shutters to keep out the intense sunlight.

In the modern world, it’s not only in the design of the glass where advancements have been made. The frames too have been developed to the extent they can be tilted, turned and slid up – mainly for safety and cleaning reasons.