A Brief History of Auto Glass

January 8, 2020

It’s easy to forget that the automobile has been around since the 1800s, with the first mass-produced car (Ford’s Model T) rolling off assembly lines in 1908. Even more astounding is realizing that something as integral as front windshield glass wasn’t actually a standard feature until sometime later, when the Oldsmobile company started to consider it a safety feature, rather than a convenience!

The history of auto glass is fascinating. Windshield glass in particular has evolved from a thin pane of glass to our first and foremost source of protection against high winds and road debris. In fact, without it, we certainly wouldn’t be able to cruise the highway in Vacaville, CA at 60, 70 or 80 mph! Take a look at just how far windshields and general auto glass have come over the years:

  • 1908: Ford’s Model T rolls off the assembly line with a windshield available as an “aftermarket” customization. Auto glass isn’t standard and isn’t a safety feature.
  • 1915: The Oldsmobile company introduces automotive glass as a standard feature on its Model 42. It’s considered a safety feature.
  • 1920: Ford standardizes windshields and begins making them shatter-proof, to prevent debris and glass shards from injuring drivers. Older glass was laminated and would discolor over time with sun exposure, which meant replacing them with age.
  • 1930: Tempered glass was invented and the auto glass game changed completely! Shatterproof windshields are now considered an important safety feature, and back glass is added to vehicles for additional protection.
  • 1930s: At some point in the 1930s, curved windshields came into play, enabling new designs for vehicles. Curved glass also improved vehicle strength and aerodynamics.
  • 1960s: Glass technology continued to get better throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s, so that by the 1960s vehicles were completely enclosed by glass—windshield and rear pane, and door glass on all sides. The rearview mirror and side mirrors also become staples of vehicles during this time.
  • 1970: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was founded in 1970, and with it, formalized standards for auto glass. This was the first true step towards uniformity and set the tone for the auto glass we know today. Specifications included glass thickness, rigidity, pressure ratings and size, among other variables.

This leads us to where we’re at today! Incremental improvements in automotive glass continue to take shape—however, these innovations pertain more to how the glass is made. Automakers still abide by NHTSA standards for auto glass and today, those standards are higher than ever. For example, windshields actually account for 45 percent of the cabin’s structural integrity in a front-end collision—up to 60 percent in a roll-over accident!

What does the future have in store for general automotive and windshield glass? Smart car glass is the most exciting prospect—glass that displays readings like your speed, fuel, RPMs and more. Just as futuristic (though not as flashy) is the concept of “wiperless” windshields, engineered to repel rain and other debris for crystal-clear vision at all times. How long until we see these types of windshield glass on cars driving around Vacaville, CA? We’ll have to see!

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