The Inventor of Float Glass

The Inventor of Float Glass

Sir Alastair Pilkington

Sir Alastair Pilkington was the inventor of the float process which is now the world standard for high-quality flat glass manufacture.

Born on 7th January 1920, Lionel Alexander Bethune (Alastair) Pilkington was educated at Sherborne School and Trinity College, Cambridge.

During his time at Trinity College he volunteered to join the Royal Artillery and became an officer just before the outbreak of World War II, and later fought in the Mediterranean, where he was taken prisoner after the fall of Crete.

When the war ended, he returned to Cambridge and gained a degree in mechanical science.

He joined what was then Pilkington Brothers (there was no family connection) as a technical officer in 1947. He was often publicly referred to as a distant cousin to the glass-making family, but no link was established between their ancestors.

In 1952 Sir Alastair Pilkington came up with the idea of the Float Glass process and on 20th January 1959 it was announced to the glass-making world.

After this extraordinary invention and plenty of shared traits with Sir Harry (Lord) Pilkington, Alastair moved rapidly through the positions within Pilkington:

  • 1953  Sub-director and Member of Executive Committee
  • 1955  Director
  • 1971-3  Deputy Chairman of the Group
  • 1973  Chairman of the Group

He retired from executive office in 1980 to give him more time out of work and retired from the board in 1985.

Sir Alastair Pilkington passed away on 5th May 1995 at the age of 75.

Information sourced from The Glassmakers by T. C. Barker and Float: Pilkingtons' Glass Revolution by D. J. Bricknell and in-house.

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