Corning History of Innovation | Glass Discovery | Corning

Discovery has always been an integral part of what we do at Corning.

Dating back to the start of the company in 1851, Corning’s founding family, the Houghtons, saw research and development as a way to stand out in a landscape thick with rival glass makers.

Corning, the Houghtons decided, would distinguish itself from the competition with a deep knowledge of the makeup, chemistry and physics of glass—a malleable, miraculous material that inventors, innovators, and a wide range of businesses have used to help transform our lives.

In 1879, a 32-year-old inventor named Thomas Edison approached Corning with his idea for the lightbulb. He needed just the right glass to encase the delicate filaments that comprised the lightbulb; glass that was stronger and more damage-resistant than glass typically used in windows and jars. By 1880, Edison had designated Corning as his sole supplier of the glass bulbs he needed to bring light to the wider world.

Corning also helped make early train travel safer after the railroad industry sought the company’s help in developing a more reliable signal glass. In the early 1900s, Corning scientists William Churchill and George Hollister developed Nonex (or CNX), short for Corning nonexpansion glass. The glass, able to withstand dramatic temperature changes, was used in railroad signal lanterns. Churchill would go on to work with the Railroad Signal Association (RSA) to develop a set of ideal colors that would later become the RSA national standard.

As the world evolved, so did Corning’s product line. Corning manufactured the glass tubes used in primitive versions of the radio and then applied the company’s understanding of material science and production efficiencies to mass produce cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in the early 1940s at the dawn of the television age. By the 1950s, Corning was the world’s top supplier of CRTs and by the 1960s, the company was producing 100 percent of the world’s TV glass, including all TV bulbs plus replacement bulbs.

Glass and other materials invented in Corning’s laboratories have been used for space travel. Corning products have also proven a staple of laboratory research dating back 100 years. Penicillin and a polio vaccine are among those medical breakthroughs accomplished using Corning Pyrex® culture vessels.

Corning glass has continued to play a hidden yet essential role through the digital revolution. Corning glass is ubiquitous in liquid crystal display (LCD) screens —both small and large—that are transforming the way we communicate and receive information. Corning optical lenses are used to etch ever-smaller circuits on silicon chips, allowing all of us to carry smart phones that have more computing power than the supercomputer that only a generation ago occupied an entire room.

One of Corning’s greatest achievements was the invention of low-loss fiber optics in 1970, which helped launch the age of optical communications. Thin strands of Corning glass smaller than a human hair can transmit millions of bits of information per second via photons (pulses of light) rather than electrons, revolutionizing telecommunications in our wired, always-on world.  Today, Corning remains the worldwide market leader and is the most widely deployed brand of fiber.

Corning’s latest glass innovations are major contributors to our constantly connected world – with damage-resistant Corning® Gorilla® Glass as a protective cover glass on consumer electronic devices that enables thin, light and cost-efficient applications for today’s slim displays and handheld devices, as well as ultra-thin and flexible Corning® Willow® Glass for the smart surfaces of the future.


Explore the Ways Corning Impacts Your Life