Corning History of Innovation | Glass Discovery | Corning


The History of Corning Innovation

The History of Corning Innovation


Corning's long history of innovation begins with the development of a bulb-shaped glass encasement for Thomas Edison's new incandescent lamp. The design is so successful that by 1908, these glass envelopes account for half of Corning's business.

At that time, bulbs are made by hand, one piece at a time. A skilled craftsman can produce several hundred bulbs a day. Later, Corning would develop a new manufacturing process that would mass produce these bulbs, making Edison's electric lamp more affordable to the masses.


Dr. Eugene Sullivan arrives at Corning to establish one of the first industrial research departments in the United States. Under his leadership, Corning becomes synonymous with glass research.


America's railroads face a dangerous problem at the turn of the century. The glass globes of signal lanterns, vital to the railroads' safe operation, sometimes shatter due to thermal expansion caused by extreme temperature changes. Corning solves this problem by developing a heat-resistant, low expansion glass able to withstand sudden jolts of heat and cold. This product is so durable that railroads need far fewer replacements, and eventually demand begins to dwindle. Within a few years, Corning scientists begin to investigate new applications for this material.


In 1913, Dr. Jesse Littleton, a Corning physicist, asks his wife Bessie to bake a cake on a piece of heat resistant glass developed in 1908. The glass holds up beautifully throughout the baking process.

In 1915, Corning creates an improved glass formula under the PYREX® brand. PYREX® becomes synonymous with a line of highly durable cookware and laboratory glass products still available today.


William J. Woods, a former glassblower, and his colleague David E. Gray, an engineer, invent the high-speed ribbon machine which creates 400,000 bulb blanks in a 24-hour period- about 5 times the output of earlier machines.

Later, in 1933, the ribbon machine is used to manufacture radio bulbs. This manufacturing innovation drives down the price of radio sets, making them more affordable to consumers.

During this time, Corning also begins producing large glass bulbs for cathode ray tubes (CRTs) for new test equipment such as an oscilloscope, an instrument in which the variations in a fluctuating electrical quantity appear temporarily as a visible wave form on the fluorescent screen of a cathode ray tube. CRTs are also used for experimental television sets.


Corning scientist Dr. J Franklin Hyde, an organic chemist, develops silicones, an engineered material that is a cross between glass and plastic. Dr. Hyde’s early work on silicones would later be applied in the development of products for a Corning joint venture- Dow Corning.

Dr. Hyde’s experimentation with vaporized liquids would lead to a process for producing a nearly pure silica compound. This process, known as vapor deposition, and the material, high purity fused silica, would later be used by Corning for creating numerous products including spacecraft windows, optical lenses, optical fiber and telescope mirrors. Hyde would be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2000.


In 1935, Dr. George McCauley, a Corning physicist, designs and directs Corning’s production of a 200-inch mirror blank for the Hale Telescope at Mount Palomar- the world’s largest piece of glass at that time.

This early disk is made from PYREX® material and is one of the several large-sized mirror blanks cast by Corning under McCauley’s direction.


Corning’s 9-inch circular cathode ray tube goes on display at RCA’s futuristic demonstration of television at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.

The outbreak of World War II increases demand for Corning’s CRTs – a critical component of the U.S. military’s radar equipment. In 1943, Corning would develop an electrical process to seal the bulbs, enabling the production of more than 3 million large tubes for this application.

By 1948, Corning would begin its journey into the television market by manufacturing television glass.


Corning chemist Dr. Charles F. DeVoe develops a continuous melting process using electric melting and improved stirring techniques to make up to 100 pounds of optical glass an hour. His work results in methods of producing optical and ophthalmic glasses that are still used today.


As it had done nearly 75 years before with light bulbs, Corning revolutionizes the television industry by inventing a process to mass produce TV picture tubes. Two years later, a lead-free glass composition that was lighter and less expensive to produce, and a new method for the spin (centrifugal) casting of television funnels would be discovered. Suddenly, the fledgling phenomenon of television would become affordable for millions of people.


Dr. S. Donald Stookey makes an accidental discovery while heating a piece of photosensitive glass, originally developed by Corning 1947. When the oven malfunctions and overheats, Stookey discovers that the glass is still in perfect shape, milky white from the crystallization. And, it doesn’t break when dropped. The result is a new glass-ceramic material and a new business for Corning – CorningWare® – and a new family of materials, glass ceramics. Stookey would be awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1986 for his materials innovations, and would go on to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010.


The Mercury spacecraft makes the first successful American manned flight equipped with heat-resistant windows manufactured by Corning. Corning would go on to create the window glass for every manned American spacecraft – from Gemini and Apollo flights to the space shuttle – and would continue to produce glass for numerous applications within the space industry.

Gemini space capsule image provided by NASA through the Great Images in NASA library.


Corning scientists Stuart Dockerty and Clint Shay develop the fusion overflow process to produce flat glass. In this method, molten glass flows down both sides of a tapered trough and rejoins, or fuses, at the bottom to form a single sheet of flawless glass. This “overflow glass” would become the precursor to Corning’s liquid crystal display glass substrates.


Drs. Robert Maurer, Donald Keck, and Peter Schultz develop the first optical fiber capable of maintaining the strength of laser light signals over significant distances. This innovation paves the way for the commercialization of fiber optics for telecommunications. For this innovation, Maurer, Keck, and Schultz would be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1993, and would go on to receive the 2000 National Medal of Technology.


Automobile makers search for a technology that can help them meet new emission control policies. Dr. Rodney Bagley, Dr. Irwin Lachman, and Ronald Lewis invent the cellular ceramic substrate for automotive emissions control that is now the standard for automotive catalytic converters worldwide. Bagley, Lachman, and Lewis would be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002, and would go on to receive the 2003 National Medal of Technology for this work. 


In the 1980s, research labs working on active matrix liquid crystal displays (LCDs) find that ordinary glass was not precise, stable, or durable enough to meet their requirements. Corning’s “fusion” process makes glass that fills the bill perfectly. It would go on to aid the LCD industry in making large, high-quality flat panel displays possible for various new applications.


Corning produces glass for the mirror of the Hubble Telescope, designed in the 1970s and launched in 1990, and the Gemini Project's new telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The aspheric mirrors serve to form focused images over the largest possible field of view through the telescope lens.

In 1997, Corning would use a similar glass for the Subaru Telescope mirror - shaped like a 27-ton contact lens, more than 26 feet across and only inches thick. It would be one of the largest pieces of glass ever made. This thin profile would enable 261 actuators on the reverse side of the mirror to constantly reshape its surface through tiny nudges that keep starlight precisely focused.


Corning receives the National Medal of Technology for life-changing and life-enhancing inventions that enabled new industries- lighting, television, and optical communications.


Dr. George Beall receives his 100th patent, becoming the first Corning scientist to reach this milestone. Beall's career at Corning spans more than four decades, and he is credited with the discovery of glass-ceramic materials used in such products as Macor® machinable glass-ceramics (which have widespread use in the electronic and aerospace industries), Pyroceram® commercial tableware, and Visions® cookware.


Conventional drug discovery technologies rely heavily on the use of fluorescent or radioactive labels, which can cause false positives or negatives. Corning opens the door to more efficient drug discovery with its revolutionary Epic® label-free technology, which allows pharmaceutical researchers to more accurately identify which drug compounds are the best candidates for treating specific diseases.


Running optical fiber through apartment buildings requires a lot of twists and turns, which can diminish the fiber's performance. Leveraging Corning's decades of optical fiber research, Corning scientists Drs. Pushkar Tandon, Dana Bookbinder, and Ming-Jun Li, develop an industry-changing solution - ClearCurve® optical fiber. ClearCurve® fiber is able to be bent at 90-degree angles with minimal signal loss, bringing state-of-the-art optical performance not only to high rises, but also to data centers and enterprise networks.


Cell phone manufacturers challenge Corning to find a cover glass for their devices that is more damage-resistant than traditional materials such as soda-lime glass and plastic. Corning finds a way to make glass thin and light enough for mobile devices, but still tough enough to resist the scratches, bumps, and drops of everyday use — and Gorilla® Glass is born. Applications include smartphones, slates, tablets, PCs, TVs, and more.


Corning introduces Gen 10 glass. The most dramatic leap forward in size in the history of LCD, Gen 10 offers approximately 70 percent more surface area than the previous size, Gen 8.

At 2,880 x 3,130 mm (approximately 9 feet by 10 feet), a single sheet of Gen 10 glass can produce 28 32-inch panels, or 15 42-inch panels. This increase in efficiency reduces costs, ultimately making LCD TVs more affordable for consumers.


Stem cells are grown on biological surfaces, which are not optimal for cell therapy applications because they are costly and variable. Corning solves these problems with the Corning® Synthemax® surface. Synthetic and animal-free, Synthemax® surfaces support the growth and differentiation of stem cells and provide scientists with more biologically relevant information, opening the door to potential therapies for the treatment of degenerative diseases.