Laminated Safety Glass Was Invented by Mistake
It seems strange that something so important to auto safety which every car today is required to have was invented by mistake, but this is a true story.
The French scientist, Edouard Benedictus, was born in 1878. Not only was he a renowned chemist, but he was also a composer, writer, and painter. He was famous for his Art Deco designs. He began working as a book binder in 1897. But by the turn of the century he was working in a lab as a chemist.
One day in 1903, while climbing a ladder, he accidently knocked an empty glass flask off of a shelf. Although he had heard the shatter of glass, upon examination he discovered that the flask had managed to essentially keep its original form. The shards of glass held together in a spider web-designed, flask shape.
The Mystery of the Broken Flask Solved
Edouard wondered how an empty glass flask could have clung together like that. It should have shattered into a million pieces. It was then that he learned from his assistant that the flask had once been full of a piston fluid made from cellulose nitrite. Although the liquid had evaporated, the inside of the flask still contained a thin, see-through film coating which, apparently, was holding the pieces of glass together. He was intrigued by what had happened but, at the time, the event was virtually forgotten.
From Accidental Discovery to Patented Safety Invention
Coincidentally, at about the same time in Paris, driving automobiles had become a new, and sometimes dangerous hobby. The same week as Edouard’s accidental discovery, a local paper ran an article about the recent increase in automobile accidents. After reading about the serious injuries incurred by drivers due to the spray of shattered windshield glass, Edouard had an epiphany as an image of the non-shattered flask leapt into his mind. He concluded that windshields could be safer when made from glass that was coated like the flask had been.
Edouard began working on his idea and in one day he had created the first piece of coated Triplex glass. Through trial and error, he determined that the most effective formulation was to bind two sheets of glass together with a clear, plastic layer between them. Six years later, he patented his invention as laminated safety glass.
Although an effective safety feature, Benedictus’ discovery proved too expensive to produce and automobile manufacturers were not quick to incorporate it into their designs. However, future products were based on his discovery, which means that the first safety glass was invented by mistake.