Bryan Gardiner of Wired has this very amusing article about the history of Gorilla Glass. Reportedly, the nearly indestructible glass was created purely by accident by one of Corning's chemist. And while the glass showed incredible potential for strength and durability, at the time nobody really wanted it. Fascinating to also get a peak inside of Cornings' company culture. It sounds like a great place to work.
The material was a boon to Corning's fortunes, and soon the company launched Project Muscle, a massive R&D effort to explore other ways of strengthening glass. A breakthrough came when company scientists tweaked a recently developed method of reinforcing glass that involved dousing it in a bath of hot potassium salt. They discovered that adding aluminum oxide to a given glass composition before the dip would result in remarkable strength and durability. Scientists were soon hurling fortified tumblers off their nine-story facility and bombarding the glass, known internally as 0317, with frozen chickens. It could be bent and twisted to an extraordinary degree before fracturing, and it could withstand 100,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. (Normal glass can weather about 7,000.) In 1962 Corning began marketing the glass as Chemcor and thought it could work for products like phone booths, prison windows, and eyeglasses.
Yet while there was plenty of initial interest, sales were slow. Some companies did place small orders for products like safety eyeglasses. But these were recalled for fear of the potentially explosive way the glass could break. Chemcor seemed like it would make a good car windshield too, and while it did show up in a handful of Javelins, made by American Motors, most manufacturers weren't convinced that paying more for the new muscle glass was worth it -- especially when the laminated stuff they'd been using since the '30s seemed to work fine.
Corning had invented an expensive upgrade nobody wanted. It didn't help that crash tests found that "head deceleration was significantly higher" on the windshields -- the Chemcor might remain intact, but human skulls would not.
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