Get smart curated videos delivered to your inbox.   SUBSCRIBE
The Kid Should See This

The Glass Ribbon Machine

Watch more with these video collections:

In 1879, Thomas Edison and his research team developed a durable carbon-filament light bulb. In the 1880s and 90s, when glass had to be blown by hand, the skilled Corning glassblowers that Edison hired could produce two light bulb glass shells per minute, a pace that couldn’t meet the public’s demand for easy and inexpensive electricity.

Enter Corning master glassblower William J. Woods, who, in 1921, thought of forming the glass shells through holes in a metal plate. Collaborating with mechanical engineer and colleague David E. Gray, his idea developed into The Glass Ribbon Machine, which could produce up to 300 light bulbs per minute by 1926. Before the end of the century, newer versions of the machine could produce 1,600 bulbs per minute. From

A glass melting tank sat above one end of the machine, feeding a stream of molten glass from its forehearth down between two metal drums, which flattened the glass into a thick, glowing ribbon. This yellow-orange ribbon was laid onto a series of square plates, each with a small hole in its center, which were linked together in the manner of a bicycle chain and driven by sprockets at either end of the oval.

As soon as the glass ribbon was laid on the chain, the glass began to sink through the holes, giving nascent form to the future bulb blanks. A chained series of moving plungers above the chain descended on the hot ribbon, pushing compressed air into the sagging glass. And a third chain, below and inside the first, thrust up a series of split molds which snapped together around the forming glass to give final shape to the bulb blanks before unsnapping just as quickly to reveal the familiar light bulb configuration.

From the Corning Museum of Glass, this is high speed footage of “the machine that lit up the world,” now a relic from a pre-LED bulb era. It was preserved by the museum in 2016 after Osram Sylvania closed their Wellsboro, Pennsylvania plant, one of the last U.S. factories where ribbon machines were used.

Next, build your own light bulb, watch glass artist Kiva Ford make handmade scientific & artistic glassware, and enjoy Glas, Bert Haanstra‘s Oscar winning documentary short film.

This Webby award-winning video collection exists to help teachers, librarians, and families spark kid wonder and curiosity. TKSST features smarter, more meaningful content than what's usually served up by YouTube's algorithms, and amplifies the creators who make that content.

Curated, kid-friendly, independently-published. Support this mission by becoming a sustaining member today.

🌈 Watch these videos next...

Why are moths obsessed with lamps?

Rion Nakaya

Why are Dalmatians the Traditional Dog of Choice at Fire Stations?

Rion Nakaya

Who invented the light bulb?

Rion Nakaya

What happened to the Milky Way?

Rion Nakaya

The Bulb Factory: How vintage filament bulbs are made by hand

Rion Nakaya

Remaking an ancient glass fish at the Corning Museum of Glass

Rion Nakaya

Relighting “Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque)” by Georges Seurat

Rion Nakaya

L’homme à la tête de caoutchouc (1901) – Georges Méliès

Rion Nakaya

How to make a turquoise goblet

Rion Nakaya