The mass production of light bulbs was quite the engineering quandary back in the early 1900s, considering even the most “skilled glassblowers” maxed out at two a minute. Surely the process could be automated, somehow? It took some creative thinking by the folks at Corning Glass, but the end result was this marvel — a “glass ribbon” device that, at its best, could pump out almost 100,000 bulbs an hour.
Marvin Bolt, a curator for the Corning Museum of Glass, provides some insight into the how and why of the machine:
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 moulds, 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 1600 bulbs per minute.
The video here shows such a machine in action, located at the now-decommissioned Osram Sylvania plant in Winchester, Kentucky. You can’t help but tense up a bit when the bulbs are dumped willy-nilly onto that conveyor belt.
Yet, somehow, it all works… without becoming a nightmare of shattered glass.
[Corning Museum of Glass, via The Awesomer]