The History of Replacement Windows - Seeing Out Through the Years
The history of replacement windows is a fairly recent one. The replacement window industry has just got into full swing in the last thirty years or so. But of course, before we can have replacement windows, we would have to have the first windows that needed replacing. So this history lesson is based on the creation and development of glass panes, and how they became an integral and necessary part of home construction.
They had windows before Christ...
It seems the Romans and the Germans were responsible for many inventions that have withstood the test of time. Glass is no exception. The Romans learned how to make sheets of glass around 400 B.C. but, since the climate was warm enough that they didn't need windows, they used their invention for more extravagant things - like making drinking cups and jewelry.
Up north, in the colder climates, Germanic tribes could have used these sheets of glass, but it took hundreds of years before they actually adapted glassmaking to their needs. In the Middle Ages, around 600 A.D., the Germans established window manufacturing plants along the Rhine River.
Glassmaking was a high art...
Good glassmakers were few and far between at that time. It took a great amount of skill and a long apprenticeship before a man was qualified to do the job properly. That's why they called a glassmaker a "gaffer", German for "learned grandfather"�.
Glassmaking in those days was done in two ways. The method that was most widely used, but produced inferior-quality glass, was called the cylinder method, where the glassmaker blew molten silica into a sphere and swung it back and forth until it was shaped like a cylinder. Then they cut the cylinder lengthwise and flattened it into a sheet.
The other method, called the crown method, was a specialty among Normandy glassmakers. These craftsmen also blew a sphere, but attached an iron rod to it before cracking off the blowing iron, leaving a hole at one end. Then they'd rapidly rotate the sphere, using centrifugal force to expand the hole until the sphere opened into a disk. Crown glass was thinner than cylinder glass and could only be used for very small window panes.
Most windows made in those days were monopolized by the huge cathedrals with their massive stained-glass windows. From the churches, the use of window glass was gradually adopted by the wealthy and then, eventually, by everyone else. The biggest sheet of glass that could be made back then was about four feet across. But by the 17th century, improvements in glassmaking technology produced single panes of up to 13' x 7'.
Then, in 1687, Bernard Perrot, a French gaffer from Orleans, patented a new method of making plate glass. He cast hot, molten glass on a large iron table and spread it out with a heavy metal roller. This method produced the first large sheets of relatively-undistorted glass, fit for use as full-length mirrors.
A "wind's eye" became a window...
The actual word "window"� has an interesting derivation. It comes from two Scandinavian words, vindr and auga, meaning "wind's eye"�. Early Norse carpenters didn't go to great lengths to build perfect houses. One thing they omitted was allowance for ventilation. Throughout the long, cold winters, with all the doors closed, the air in a house got smoky and stale. So they made a small hole in the roof, called an "eye"�. The wind often whistled through the eye, so they called it the "wind's eye". Later, builders from Britain borrowed the Norse term and changed it to "window". And eventually, the hole that was designed to let in air was covered with glass to keep it out.
Andersen Lumber Company led the way...
During World War I, the Andersen Lumber Company manufactured window frames for the military, building on their 1915 production of 1 million frames. They named their successful window design after the war effort, calling it the Victory window. They were always on the leading edge of the window frame industry, and they proved it again in 1940, when they developed the first horizontal gliding window, revolutionizing home design.
After World War II, Andersen had trouble getting supplies, which forced them to redesign their window. What they came up with was the Pressure-Seal double-hung window that did away with the weights and pulleys systems from before. They also started putting weather-stripping on their windows. By 1948, Anderson was producing, along with their Pressure-Seal double-hung windows, casement windows, picture windows, gliding windows and basement utility windows. They were indeed the leader.
In 1952, Andersen invented the Flexivent window, that could be installed to swing inward, outward, or like a casement window. Another first Andersen produced was its Welded Insulating Glass that protected homes from condensation and frost - storm windows were no longer needed.
Another huge breakthrough in replacement windows came in 1966, when Andersen developed their Perma-Shield Cladding System. This system consisted of adding a tough vinyl exterior to wood windows which greatly extended the life of the window. Andersen advertised his Perma-Shield System, promising that it wouldn't "rust, pit, corrode, chip, flake, peel or blister."� To this day, that promise has been kept.
As the replacement window industry grew, so did Andersen's line of new and innovative products. In 1971, they introduced the Flex-Pac window, which was completely assembled and pre-finished. And they made it more attractive, too, with their introduction in 1974 of the first color Perma-Shield Cladding.
Then, in 1980 the Andersen Windows Corporation jumped into the replacement window business by introducing their pre-finished Flexiframe window. And a further jump ahead came in 1983, when Andersen introduced low-emissivity (Low-E) High-Performance Glass. This was a huge step ahead. This new Low-E glass was covered with a transparent, metallic film which kept the heat in during the winter, and kept it out during the summer. It also dramatically reduced ultra-violet rays from getting through the window.
In 1991, Andersen developed yet another first - Fibrex, which was made from recycled wood and vinyl from their factories. Fibrex resisted rotting and was a great insulator, among other things. The year 2003 marked Andersen Corporation's 100th anniversary - and what a century it's been for them. And for the replacement window industry as a whole. As they led the way, other manufacturers followed suit. Now you can get replacement windows of all kinds, in all sizes, in all shapes, wherever and whenever you want.
The future of replacement windows looks bright
Innovations in the replacement window industry are continually making their way into people's homes. You can now buy self-cleaning glass (it doesn't actually clean itself - it just repels the dirt). If you live in a hurricane zone, you can get specially laminated glass that resists hurricane-force winds. You can buy windows that have built-in adjustable blinds - right inside the windows! What next?
What next, indeed. What's next for you, if you're considering replacing any windows in your home, is to check out our "Glossary of Replacement Window Terms", to make sure you understand the language used. Then you can read up on "How Replacement Windows Work". And then you're set. Soon, you'll be able to sit back in your home and stare out at the beautiful view through your new replacement windows. Enjoy!
This article on the "History of Replacement Windows" reprinted with permission.
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