New Jobs for GLASS (Sep, 1946)

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New Jobs for GLASS

Stronger-than-steel fibers serve fliers, motorists, engineers, sportsmen, housewives.

WHEN glass is blown into fibers the size of the strands of a spider web it becomes as flexible as cotton thread and stronger than steel. No longer a novelty, this process was first used commercially in 1931. Since then, Fiberglas has been given more than 4,000 jobs to do in American industry and is daily being put to work at new ones, some of which are Shown here. Engineers and designers think this is only a beginning for a material that does not burn, shrink, stretch, oxidize, rot or rust, and is not harmed by weak alkalis or most acids.

  1. Stephen says: January 27, 20119:34 am

    I remember my grandfather moulding a glass-fibre paddling pool in the early 70s. I think this was really glass-reinforced plastic: there was some sort of binder (liquid plastic that set on the glass-fibre mould?) that emitted fumes from which children were kept strictly away.

  2. Andrew L. Ayers says: January 27, 201111:05 am

    @Stephen: You mean “fiberglass”?…

    Fiberglass is now a common material – tons of stuff is molded with it, probably the most common being shower and tub inserts for homes, boat hulls, and to a certain extent automobiles (especially higher performance vehicles for weight reduction).

    I have the complete series of the Popular Mechanics Do-It-Yourself encyclopedias; IIRC, there’s an article in there about building a fiberglass swimming pool (probably similar to what your grandfather built)…

  3. Andrew L. Ayers says: January 27, 201111:12 am

    I’m seriously wondering, though, about the glass fiber clothing, drapes, and bedcovers – those obviously never made it to market? Did they itch worse than wool, or were there other issues?

    Also – what happened to structural fiberglass parts (like those engine mounts)? I know that fiberglass has been used for vehicle body parts and such (like the Corvette), but why don’t we see more use of it? Or do we, and its just hidden away so well…?

  4. Jari says: January 27, 201112:25 pm

    Andrew: At least glass fiber insulation itches like hell after a while, if you handle it without gloves.

    As for fiberglass parts, I’d say economical reasons. Making anything more complex than sheet-like structures from fiberglass needs quite a lot of manual work and is time consuming. Also you’ll need to make it waterproof with gelcoat to prevent it slowly destroying itself in freezing climate. And when stressed too much, it doesn’t bend like metals, but breaks to pieces.

  5. Kosher Ham says: January 27, 201112:28 pm

    I helped my dad “glass” a boat. The plastic resin used was polyester, which was set with a catalyst.

    Glass fibers are also used as glass wool, commonly used in home insulation.

    The problem with glass fibers is that they are very irritating, perhaps because the fibers have sharp edges like broken glass. A very thorough cleanup was necessary after working with glass fibers.

  6. Andrew L. Ayers says: January 27, 20111:42 pm

    I guess I just wonder how those models were able to wear that stuff without itching like mad; I know from experience that fiberglass insulation is nasty stuff (obviously, the images of the workers putting the stuff on a water heater sans protect gloves, not to mention masks – was just the way it was back then).

    I also know that “sheet fiberglass”, like you see in some automobile bodies, is fragile on impact (and expensive to repair/replace), but that’s also kinda the point – by shattering, it absorbs more energy on impact, meaning less energy of a collision is transmitted to the occupants (of course, if every time you got into a small fender bender you had to replace a quarter of your car body, etc – that wouldn’t go over well in the market outside of niches like sports cars).

    /feel like I’m itchin’! LOL

  7. Tom says: January 27, 20117:55 pm

    My mother had some fiberglass drapes in the 1960s. They didn’t cause itching.

    We never tried to light them to see if they were flame-proof, either!

  8. Toronto says: January 27, 20118:14 pm

    We had fibreglas drapes, too, and I’m fairly sure my mother had a ‘glas dress once – presumably worn with a slip or something to keep it from itching. I’d estimate it was New Years 1967 or so.

  9. Daniel Rutter says: January 27, 201111:09 pm

    Fresh, unused glass-cloth isn’t irritating at all; it’s smooth and silky. If you hemmed the edges you could make comfortable garments out of it.

    But as soon as it starts to fray anywhere – and I wouldn’t be surprised if you started that process just by sewing the cloth into a garment – you’ll get those microscopic sharp fibre-ends sticking out, and the itching will commence.

    There’s also an inhalation risk as soon as glass-fibre particulates start breaking off altogether; people who make surfboards or install glass-wool insulation without using breathing protection are apt to develop pulmonary fibrosis, which is no fun at all.

    (Most of the casualties from asbestos inhalation are not from cancer, but from “asbestosis”, a particularly unpleasant form of pulmonary fibrosis. Asbestos is essentially just very fine natural fibreglass, that doesn’t start out as the very long fibres that constitute man-made fibreglass.)

  10. carlm says: January 28, 20113:54 am

    The “roof” of the New York State Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair(The flying saucer building in Men in Black) , was made of multicolored fiberglass panels. They didn’t last that long. After about 5 years they started cracking and falling. The UV from the sun just degraded them. Probably the binding resins degraded but it showed that the material wasn’t as promising as manufactures hoped.

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