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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Thumbnail of Irving Wightman Colburn (source)
Irving Wightman Colburn
(16 May 1861 - 4 Sep 1917)

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Irving W. Colburn

Inventor of Plate Glass Manufacturing Process

In 1899, Irving W. Colburn began his experiments which would eventually lead to mechanizing the continuous production of sheet glass. Within a few years, he had built many machines, progressing from crude results to apparent success. His efforts were sufficiently advanced in 1906 to form the Colburn Machine Glass Co, and by 1908, the company had drawing machines at two factories.

Accounts of the day enthusiastically admired the significance of Colburn's machines. However, in the period between 1905 and 1912, fifteen different machines had been developed, with an expenditure of more than a million dollars. Yet the output was limited to only a few thousand boxes of product, and the the glass was, in reality, of rather poor quality.

Although Colburn was on the right path, by 1911, the technology still needed to be perfected. Expenditures continued while income was elusive. His company went bankrupt. On 8 Feb 1912, its assets were sold by auction. This included the numerous patents Colburn held for his process, and these still had much potential value.

Following the bankruptcy of his company, Colburn's patents were purchased by Edward Libbey, president of the Toledo Glass Company. Shortly thereafter, Libbey showed his confidence in Colburn's ability by hiring him to continue improving his process.

After a further period of experimentation, a machine was built that could indeed successfully produce plate glass in commercial quantities by mechanical means. On Thanksgiving, 25 Nov 1913, the first draw of sheet glass commenced at Toledo Glass Co.

In Colburn's process, the production of sheet glass using began with an iron rod as “bait” immersed lengthwise in a shallow tank of molten glass. This caused some glass to stick to the rod, whereupon an electric motor pulled the rod, drawing a ribbon of glass horizontally over a set of rollers which roughly formed a flat sheet of glass as it continued to be drawn out of the molten reservoir. Its width was controlled by water-cooled side rollers as it approached a flattening table. In the next stage, the glass sheet passed through an annealing oven supported on a train of asbestos-surfaced rollers. The final step was to cut the work into plate glass sheets of the required size.


See also:
  • 16 May - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Colburn's birth.

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 10 -
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by Ian Ellis
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