From Goggle Balls to Sun Glasses (Jul, 1939)

From Goggle Balls to Sun Glasses

THE craze for gayly colored sun glasses that swept the country last year and is booming again with even greater fervor as summer comes on again, has revived to full capacity one of the most remarkable and least – known branches of the glass-making industry. Although tens of thousands of the familiar “smoked” and amber glasses, for beach and sporting wear, had been made and sold regularly each year, the new fad sent the demand skyrocketing to millions, while lens glass of half a dozen new tints and colors had to be created almost overnight.

How could millions of colored convex glass lenses be made finely enough, quickly enough, and cheaply enough to meet this challenge? Grinding was far too expensive and slow, and molding too crude. The only way out lay in making huge “goggle balls,” fantastic bubbles of blown glass, polished by fire and later cut by means of heated electric wires and diamonds into the small convex disks and other shapes required for lenses. Leon J. Houze, a master glass worker from Belgium, started the goggle-ball business in this country during the World War, when the importation of colored glass for eye protection became impossible. Beginning with amber, he later developed blue, green, fieuzal (a yellow-green glass for absorbing ultra-violet light), smoke, and many special tints for sun glasses and welding goggles. Soon, the Houze company supplied lenses of any required color to the United States Navy and to almost all the industrial goggle and sun-glass makers in America. Needless to say, these manufacturers turned straightway to Houze to solve their lens problems in the sun-glass boom of last summer.

The accompanying photographs, published for the first time in a popular magazine, were all taken in the factory at Point Marion, Pa., where nine out of ten of the lenses in the millions of pairs of goggles in use in this country today were made. They show the amazing process, step by step, from crude material to finished glasses. The goggle balls, blown in the process, are nearly three feet in diameter, and are certainly among the largest pieces of mouth-blown glassware ever produced for any purpose.

Starting with a ball of white-hot, molten glass on the end of a blowpipe, a skilled glass blower puffs the tinted crystal into a gleaming bubble, just as a child blows a sphere from soapy water. After a while, compressed air takes the place of human breath to blow the bubble up to its full size. Set out in rows to cool, the globes present a fantastic appearance. Sliced into halves by the electrically heated wires, they are further subdivided by cutting into curved plates with diamond tools. From these, girls cut lenses of the desired shapes with rotary scoring machines. The last stage of the process is to insert the lenses into heated frames. As the frames cool and contract, the lenses are gripped firmly. Curvature of the bubble walls gives the glass the desired convex shape, which could otherwise be obtained only by grinding or molding.

1 comment
  1. Anne says: April 10, 20088:22 am

    Wow. I never would’ve guessed… I’m sure they don’t still make them this way, but that’s quite interesting.

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