Fiberglass has multiple uses. It acts as an insulator, building material, and even boat hulls.
First, in 1870, John Player developed a process to mass-produce glass strands with seam jets used for insulation. By and large, this is arguably the first fiberglass.
Eventually, in 1880, Herman Hammesfahr patented weaving glass fibers to silk, making it durable and flame retardant.
Modern fiberglass is an accidental discovery. Corning Glass sold cookware. Product developer Dale Kleist was working to fuse glass pieces together. He thought the molten glass was not fusing correctly. To cool it down, he shot it with compressed creating a flood of thin glass fibers, modern fiberglass.
In 1935, Corning Glass started a co-development project with Owens-Illinois, another company working on fiberglass. The next year they merged, forming Corning-Owens, the company’s still current name.
By the late 1930s and early 1940s, they were spinning the fibers into cloth to reinforce laminates.
In 1936, DuPont’s Carlton Ellis patented polyester resin. Germany perfected combining it with fiberglass to make light and strong laminates. Eventually, during WWII, Allied spies stole the technology and brought it to the US. This material is the forerunner of modern laminates. Cars, boats, and even aircraft use light, strong laminates.
Fiber optic cable is extremely thin cable that uses light, rather than electricity, to send information.
In 1854, John Tyndall demonstrated that light bends through water. In 1880, Bell showed an analog voice signal propelled by light. He called it a Photophone. However, the process was subject to interference and abandoned.
Additionally, Europeans demonstrated that home lighting could be transmitted via light. Progress on the light over glass technology continued to evolve.
Eventually, in 1958, The US Army Signal Corps in New Jersey tasked Sam DiVita to find an alternate transmission material besides copper. Accordingly, DiVita turned by Second Lieutenant Richard Sturzebecher who had a degree in glass technology. Sturzebecher theorized that glass made using SiO2 would be flexible and carry light. No sooner did he try a sample under a microscope than it carried so light so well it gave him a splitting headache.
US Military Researches Light
Afterward, the army then put out a private research bid to develop information-carrying glass fiber cables. Corning won the bid to invent early fiber optic cable due to their work purifying SiO2. Accordingly, the army awarded them funding from 1963 to 1985 for fiber optic research.
Early fiber optic cable failed to carry light past a few kilometers. Eventually, in 1964, Kao realized the problem was due to imperfections in the silicon fiber. Subsequently, he invented a fiber-optic cable far less prone to drop light, the modern fiber optic cable.
Kao worked with ITT and others to commercialize his technology and seems to have done well for himself financially besides academically. Thereafter, he won the 2009 Nobel Prize in physics, a knighthood, and countless honorary degrees and professorships.