If you saw my video on uranium glass, you know the only way to tell if a piece of glassware is really uranium glass, or aka Vaseline glass, is to hold a black light up to it. This made me wonder, when were black lights invented? Guess what! There is a site dedicated to everything about black lights, of course! (http://www.blacklightworld.com) This site states black lights were invented by a gentleman named William Byler in 1935. This brings up another observation. Glass makers began adding uranium to the molten glass as early as the 1700s with the uranium glass really having its big moment after the 1880’s. So, all that time glassmakers were adding uranium to make beautifully colored glass never really knowing how very awesome it was! I can just imagine that the first person to shine a black light on a piece of this stuff must have lost it! I knew some pieces of glass would glow under a black light, but the first time I saw my own stuff turn that brilliant bright green I couldn’t believe it! There may have even been some adult adjectives involved! It was so much more brilliant than I had expected!
Vaseline glass purist say that the only true Vaseline glass is the yellowish glass that looks like old petroleum jelly. This is the glass that was made prior to the 1930s. Unfortunately, it was not a very popular color for glassware. Remember, they didn’t have black lights yet! To improve sales, the glass companies began to experiment with color by adding iron oxide, better known as rust, to create a greenish color. (I wonder if vintage coke bottles also glow?
If you know or have a picture, add it to the comments!) This is where uranium glass begins to get confused with Depression Glass (look for a post on that soon!) Think of a Venn diagram: some uranium glass is Depression glass and some Depression glass is uranium glass. There is a bit of an overlap.
In the 1940’s the United States government collected (confiscated sounds harsh, but that’s what happened) all of the uranium supplies needed to make the glass. (The teacher in me must ask: Can anyone tell me what they were doing with the uranium? Anyone? Please add your answers to the comment section. And no politics! We are all tired of that this week!) I think this is what makes the history of things so interesting to me. The connections between a totally innocuous industry and the world changing events happening around it tie our rather mundane lives to history in so many ways!
Back on topic. After WWII, glass makers were able to begin adding uranium to their products again. It was now depleted uranium, but that didn’t make a difference to the color of the glass or its ability to glow under a black light, which I suspect was known if not common knowledge yet. Actually, most of Europe didn’t have any uranium to use for this purpose, except the island of Murano. I am sure there must be a story explaining how they were able to obtain uranium for making Venetian glass when the rest of the continent was still busy cleaning up, but I don’t know it. Someday I might research it and write a great historical thriller about it!
For a brief while, I guess around the 1990’s, there was some concern that uranium glass might cause a person to have radiation poisoning. I think this was potentially a valid concern. I think of the story of the Radium Girls that had used radium to paint the glowing faces of watches and other things. Many of them suffered terrible consequences of working with radioactive materials. I could see where the workers in factories that made uranium glass, handling larger quantities of uranium might have also had similar concerns. However, in 2001, the United States Nuclear Regulation Commission did a study on uranium glass to determine how radioactive it actually was. Thankfully, it found there was less radiation being transmitted than is received on a sunny day outside! I however will still not be using my personal uranium glass pieces, but that’s just because I am saving them for a really special occasion, like when the space aliens come for tea. I need something to impress them with!
Look at these pieces with and without a black light. I think they are amazing! What do you think? (BTW, I don’t think I can bring myself to add these to my Etsy store yet…maybe someday.)