Glass Ribbon Machine

Watch one of the world’s fastest machines in action.

After Thomas Edison developed a practical and durable light bulb filament in 1879, it took time for this technology to take hold, in part because it required a new product: glass envelopes to surround the filament. When Edison first commissioned Corning Glass to manufacture those envelopes in the early 1880s, skilled glassblowers could produce just two bulbs per minute.

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To meet the growing demand, the ribbon machine was conceived by William J. Woods in 1921, and designed in collaboration with his Corning Glass colleague, David E. Gray. By moving a ribbon of glass across a sequence of orifice plates and molds, into which air is blown to form the light bulb envelope, the machine produces a constant stream of bulbs. By 1926, the Corning Ribbon Machine could produce up to 300 light bulbs per minute, hour after hour, day after day. Continued innovation led, in 1998, to a ribbon machine able to produce over 1,600 bulbs per minute.

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Glass Ribbon Machine, Keller Technology Corporation; United States, New York, Buffalo, 1998. Metal; Overall H: about 250 cm, W: about 250 cm, D: about 2,300 cm. 2016.8.411. Gift of Ledvance, LLC.

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