Fiberglass refers to a group of products made from individual glass fibers combined into a variety of forms. Glass fibers can be divided into two major groups according to their geometry: continuous fibers used in yarns and textiles, and the discontinuous (short) fibers used as batts, blankets, or boards for insulation and filtration. Fiberglass can be formed into yarn much like wool or cotton, and woven into fabric which is sometimes used for draperies. Fiberglass textiles are commonly used as a reinforcement material for molded and laminated plastics. Fiberglass wool, a thick, fluffy material made from discontinuous fibers, is used for thermal insulation and sound absorption. It is commonly found in ship and submarine bulkheads and hulls; automobile engine compartments and body panel liners; in furnaces and air conditioning units; acoustical wall and ceiling panels; and architectural partitions. Fiberglass can be tailored for specific applications such as Type E (electrical), used as electrical insulation tape, textiles and reinforcement; Type C (chemical), which has superior acid resistance, and Type T, for thermal insulation.
Though commercial use of glass fiber is relatively recent, artisans created glass strands for decorating goblets and vases during the Renaissance. A French physicist, Rene-Antoine Ferchault de Reaumur, produced textiles decorated with fine glass strands in 1713, and British inventors duplicated the feat in 1822. A British silk weaver made a glass fabric in 1842, and another inventor, Edward Libbey, exhibited a dress woven of glass at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Glass wool, a fluffy mass of discontinuous fiber in random lengths, was first produced in Europe at the turn of the century, using a process that involved drawing fibers from rods horizontally to a revolving drum. Several decades later, a spinning process was developed and patented. Glass fiber insulating material was manufactured in Germany during World War I. Research and development aimed at the industrial production of glass fibers progressed in the United States in the 1930s, under the direction of two major companies, the Owens-Illinois Glass Company and Corning Glass Works. These companies developed a fine, pliable, low-cost glass fiber by drawing molten glass through very fine orifices. In 1938, these two companies merged to form Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. Now simply known as Owens-Corning, it has become a $3-billion-a-year company, and is a leader in the fiberglass market.