Friday, December 13, 2019

Outdoor Object Lesson 108: A Holy Toothbrush

Key Text

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. You shall labor six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to The Lord your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates; for in six days The Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore The Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.”
‭‭Exodus‬ ‭20:8-11‬ ‭(WEB)‬‬ Paraphrased


What does it mean for something to be holy? Since we don’t have a temple like they did in Bible times, it can be a foreign concept. In modern times, especially in the West, we treat nearly everything casually. Western culture prizes a laid-back attitude. So it can be a stretch for those of us raised in this culture to fully grasp the concept of a holy object. Yet, it is something God takes extremely seriously.

In the Old Testament there are stories that seem harsh to our modern sensibilities. For example, when the Ark of the Covenant was being moved back to Jerusalem in the time of King David, as the Ark rocked sideways off the cart, Uzziah reached out to steady it. Because it was against the law for him to touch, God struck him dead on the spot (2 Sam. 6). The Ark of the Covenant was a holy object. In fact, it was the Most holy object in Israel. When God declares something holy, that means it is dedicated to a special purpose. It should not be treated casually. It should always be respected no matter what. To disrespect it is to disrespect what God has said. Think about it like this.

A toothbrush is something very important and personal. If you have ever gone camping you understand this well. It’s not healthy to go days without brushing. More importantly, your toothbrush is to remind yourself of home and help you feel somewhat clean even if the rest of your body is dirty. When camping, you must leave a lot of comforts at home. You don’t get to take a shower every day if at all, you might have to go to the bathroom outside. If you’re a dedicated backpacker you might not even take deodorant to save weight. A toothbrush is small and light enough to take camping. So brushing your teeth gives a nice clean feeling when the rest of you feels dirty and is a good reminder of home. Some backpackers are so dedicated to saving weight but also having their toothbrush they cut most of the handle off!

Your toothbrush is your's alone. You would never want anyone else to use it for anything without your permission. You would be most deeply offended if you came to the tent and saw someone else brushing their teeth with your toothbrush! You might be angry enough to hurt someone if you found them using your toothbrush to clean the mud off their shoes! You would consider that brush dirty, defiled. You would probably never use it again and get a new one. That toothbrush is holy unto you. It is meant for one purpose. It is meant for one person alone.

When God declares something holy, he takes holiness to a much higher level, because he is the God of the universe. He is the giver of life and has the right to take life back when we defile his holy objects. God does not owe us anything, we owe him everything, including our lives. So while it seems harsh for God to kill those who violate his holy laws, it’s not unjust. While we may live in a very casual society, God still expects us to keep things holy that he has declared as such. The Sabbath is perhaps the most important one. God asks us to dedicate one day a week exclusively to him. It is holy unto him. We are not to defile it by treating it like any other day. As we grow spiritually, we will learn to see the Sabbath as a gift and a blessing. We will learn to value it like a toothbrush on a camping trip because it is a taste of home. The Sabbath is a reminder of the comfort and cleanliness of our true home in heaven.


Can you think of some other things God has declared holy?

Why do you think God chose to strike Uzziah dead on the spot?

How can you grow to love and appreciate God's holy objects?

How can you keep the Sabbath holy?

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: Monfocus via

SDA Belief Series #20

Friday, December 6, 2019

Skills: Campsite Selection

It’s become a tradition in my family to take a trip to canoe to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota every few years. In this pristine wilderness, there are designated campsites we are required to stay in. Some are better than others. Some are situated on a small rocky island where there is almost no flat or soft spot for a tent. Others are plagued by hordes of mosquitos or exposed to strong cold winds because of no tree protection. Most are just a place to pitch a tent without much of a view or other features to extol. 

On our most recent trip, we spent six days canoeing into the remote backcountry. Most of the campsites were not anymore memorable than any others. However, on our fourth day of the trip, we came across the most excellent campsite we have ever seen in all our travels in the north country. As we rounded the bend of the lakeshore looking for a site, the first feature to jump out at us was the wide sandy beach! If you have been to many lakes than you know a naturally occurring sandy beach is a pretty rare sight! This one was perhaps 100 feet long and 6 - 8 feet wide, a perfect place for disembarking our boats. As we explored the campsite we found numerous flat soft spots for all our tents,  plenty of logs to sit around the fire on, and trees to protect us from the wind. 

After we pitched camp and sat preparing dinner, we realized the sunset directly in front of our view from the beach! As we had paddled the lake earlier in the day we had all agreed this was the prettiest lake of the trip so far. To top it all off, our guide told us this lake had the best fishing on our route. We decided to stay two nights it was so perfect. And the guide’s praise turned out to be true!

The more you camp, the more you will discover that not all campgrounds or sites are created equal. Some are fantastic, and some can completely ruin your trip. How do you go about ensuring you pick a good campsite? In my experience above, finding such a good site was mostly due to chance. But there are important factors you should keep in mind to help you select a good site and avoid a terrible one. If you camp a lot, you will inevitably have a few bad experiences. But you can learn from these how to make better site choices in the future. Here are several methods to employ when selecting a site that will help ensure you get the best site every time. 

1)  Follow the first Leave No Trace rule: Plan Ahead And Prepare. The more research and planning you can do ahead the better chances of getting a good site. Look at reviews of campgrounds and sites on various websites. Call the park rangers or a guiding service and ask for recommendations about the best sites and which to avoid. Also, ask about the best times of year to visit. Avoid peak season if possible to avoid the large crowds. If you plan on taking a group, try scouting out the location by going to visit ahead of time. You can also return to great places you have discovered on previous trips. 

2) Follow the second Leave No Trace rule: Travel And Camp On Durable Surfaces. look for sites that are preexisting. These are often in the best locations and helps reduce human impact. Look for durable surfaces like an existing tent pad or a sandy spot. These tend to be less full of rocks and roots and thus more comfortable. 

3) Follow the 6 W’s of campsite selection. 

   I) Willingness - make sure the landowner is willing to have you thereby getting permission or proper permits. 

   II) Wind - look for a site with protection from the wind even if there is no wind currently. It helps to know the forecast. 

   III) Water - be sure your site is near a water source but at least 200 feet away if possible to minimize your impact. 

   IV) Wood - if you plan to have a fire make sure you know the regulations, have a designated fire ring, and plenty of wood. Use heat-treated wood if it is required. 

   V) Wild things - be sure you’re not picking a site inhabited by another animal such as near a bear den. Also, be sure to follow local guidelines about keeping animals out of your food and camp. Bear canisters or hangs are required in some places. 

   VI) Weather - think about how the weather will impact your site. Do you have protection from wind, snow, rain? Is your tent safe from dead overhanging branches or trees that could be knocked down by wind or snow? Are you safe from avalanches, flash floods, rock falls or the incoming tide?

4) Do you have a good view nearby? If you can score a campsite with a great view that makes the spot so much better. If there is a good view a short way away it’s almost as good. This is where reviews and advice from others who have been there is invaluable. 

5) What amenities are available. Not everyone camps in the same way. Some prefer a primitive campsite with nothing but solitude. Others prefer a toilet or showers nearby. Check with the site manager about what’s available. Does it meet all your requirements?

There may be a perfect campsite out there somewhere. But you’re likely not going to find it every time. It’s important to remember that even if your site is awful, it can still make for good memories later. You could stay at home where it’s comfortable and not risk ending up in a bad site with an uncomfortable night. But you’re also risking missing out on a fantastic site you never expected that makes the whole trip worth it. So get out there, you never know what you will find. You may just find a spot you want to go back to again and again!

Find out more about good campsite selection and Leave No Trace here. 

Written by David F. Garner

Friday, November 29, 2019

Outdoor Object Lesson 107: Some More Life With God

Key Text

“Governments make plans, but the Lord checks them. He does not let people do everything that they want to do. The plans that the Lord makes will always happen. His ideas will always be with us.” Psalms‬ ‭33:10-11‬ ‭(EEB)


If you have ever had a s’more than you know why they got their name, because you always want some more! S’more treats are synonymous with camping and backyard hot dog roasts. Have you ever wondered where they came from? Sadly we don’t know the name of the genius that gave us such a tasty treat. The first record of a s’more treat prepared over a fire is a recipe from 1927 found in a Girl Scout how-to book.1 The Kampground Of America (KOA) chain of campgrounds helped to popularize the treat through the middle of the 20th century. And now s’mores are the most popular dessert recipe in the U.S.A.

What is it that makes them so irresistible? The marshmallow of course. Before the s’more sandwich recipe became popular, marshmallow roasts were all the rage as far back as the 1890’s. These sticky, gooey treats are best when held to the flame. But what is the best recipe for a s’more? How long should you hold the marshmallow above the flame? Is it more tasty if you catch it on fire then blow it out quickly, or slowly let it turn to a golden brown? Are they better with milk chocolate or dark? Is it ok to eat the marshmallow off the stick and the crackers and chocolate separately as some people prefer, or must you always eat it as a sandwich? 

The best thing about s’mores is that however you answer these questions you are correct. There is no incorrect way to make or eat a s’more. Every s’more is your own unique creation and you get to make it the way you want. You can roast the marshmallow and eat it right off the stick, or forego the flame and eat it raw between graham crackers and chocolate. 

The s’more shares a lot of similarities with life. Every s’more is messy and challenging. So is life. There is a general recipe but each one is unique. If you don’t follow other people’s method all the time, that’s ok. A good s’more takes patients to make. Most importantly, both are better after going through the fire. Life is not meant to be perfect and predictable. God created life to be full of surprises. He doesn’t expect you to know everything. In fact, God “does not let people do everything that they want to do” because he wants us to learn to trust him. This world is full of sin and it’s going to get messy. Life with God will require patience. But God is infinite and promises to bring good out of the mess. 

No two lives are the same. God created everyone to be different and unique. As you grow in Him you will find your own identity in Him and learn that it is ok to be different. Pray and seek what unique life God has in store for you. Lastly, God will bring you through the fire. He does this because he knows it will make you better, the best you can be. If you let him, he will lead you to trust him. Life with God will be messy at times but if you have patients you will learn to say, “Lord I’d like s’more!”


Do you think God wants you to have an easy or a hard life?

Does the Bible promise God will give you everything you want as long as you follow him?

Is it ok for a Christian’s life to be messy, or should it go as planned?

How do you react to the difficult or messy times in your life?

1. Rebecca Rupp

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: Free-Photos via

Sunday, November 24, 2019

American Scenery: Nature's Benefit To Humanity


Thomas Cole was a premier artist and author in the U.S.A. in the early 19th century. Cole was especially known for helping to establish landscape scenes as a subject of art. Previously they were generally used only as back drop. “He was depicting the landscape not just in terms of scenery, but as an exploration of morality, spirituality, and above all, the sublime.”1 He helped start a tradition of landscape portraits in American art and influenced many great artists in following generations including Frederic Church and Ansel Adams.2 More significant than that, Cole helped American’s fall in love with the natural beauty of their own country. He helped spawn American’s love affair with the great outdoors and in turn the Conservation movement. The following essay excerpt is perhaps his greatest work as it articulated what his art could not. Namely, that modern man needs natural beauty. It is ultimately what all art seeks to imitate. Nature is living art. Without it, we are much worse off. And every artist, amateur or master, and yes every person, should spend time learning to appreciate nature’s beauty.

American Scenery by Thomas Cole

(Part 1)

[1. The Contemplation of Scenery as a Source of Delight and Improvement]

It is generally admitted that the liberal arts tend to soften our manners; but they do more--they carry with them the power to mend our hearts.

Poetry and Painting sublime and purify thought, by grasping the past, the present, and the future-- they give the mind a foretaste of its immortality, and thus prepare it for performing an exalted part amid the realities of life. And rural nature is full of the same quickening spirit--it is, in fact, the exhaustless mine from which the poet and the painter have brought such wondrous treasures-- an unfailing fountain of intellectual enjoyment, where all may drink, and be awakened to a deeper feeling of the works of genius, and a keener perception of the beauty of our existence. For those whose days are all consumed in the low pursuits of avarice, or the gaudy frivolities of fashion, unobservant of nature's loveliness, are unconscious of the harmony of creation--

Heaven's roof to them Is but a painted ceiling hung with lamps; No more--that lights them to their purposes-- They wander 'loose about;' they nothing see, Themselves except, and creatures like themselves, Short lived, short sighted.

What to them is the page of the poet where he describes or personifies the skies, the mountains, or the streams, if those objects themselves have never awakened observation or excited pleasure? What to them is the wild Salvator Rosa, or the aerial Claude Lorrain?

There is in the human mind an almost inseparable connection between the beautiful and the good, so that if we contemplate the one the other seems present; and an excellent author has said, "it is difficult to look at any objects with pleasure--unless where it arises from brutal and tumultuous emotions--without feeling that disposition of mind which tends towards kindness and benevolence; and surely, whatever creates such a disposition, by increasing our pleasures and enjoyments, cannot be too much cultivated."

It would seem unnecessary to those who can see and feel, for me to expatiate on the loveliness of verdant fields, the sublimity of lofty mountains, or the varied magnificence of the sky; but that the number of those who seek enjoyment in such sources is comparatively small. From the indifference with which the multitude regard the beauties of nature, it might be inferred that she had been unnecessarily lavish in adorning this world for beings who take no pleasure in its adornment. Who in grovelling pursuits forget their glorious heritage. Why was the earth made so beautiful, or the sun so clad in glory at his rising and setting, when all might be unrobed of beauty without affecting the insensate multitude, so they can be "lighted to their purposes?"

It has not been in vain--the good, the enlightened of all ages and nations, have found pleasure and consolation in the beauty of the rural earth. Prophets of old retired into the solitudes of nature to wait the inspiration of heaven. It was on Mount Horeb that Elijah witnessed the mighty wind, the earthquake, and the fire; and heard the "still small voice"--that voice is YET heard among the mountains! St. John preached in the desert;--the wilderness is YET a fitting place to speak of God. The solitary Anchorites of Syria and Egypt, though ignorant that the busy world is man's noblest sphere of usefulness, well knew how congenial to religious musings are the pathless solitudes.

He who looks on nature with a "loving eye," cannot move from his dwelling without the salutation of beauty; even in the city the deep blue sky and the drifting clouds appeal to him. And if to escape its turmoil--if only to obtain a free horizon, land and water in the play of light and shadow yields delight--let him be transported to those favored regions, where the features of the earth are more varied, or yet add the sunset, that wreath of glory daily bound around the world, and he, indeed, drinks from pleasure's purest cup. The delight such a man experiences is not merely sensual, or selfish, that passes with the occasion leaving no trace behind; but in gazing on the pure creations of the Almighty, he feels a calm religious tone steal through his mind, and when he has turned to mingle with his fellow men, the chords which have been struck in that sweet communion cease not to vibrate.

In what has been said I have alluded to wild and uncultivated scenery; but the cultivated must not be forgotten, for it is still more important to man in his social capacity--necessarily bringing him in contact with the cultured; it encompasses our homes, and, though devoid of the stern sublimity of the wild, its quieter spirit steals tenderly into our bosoms mingled with a thousand domestic affections and heart-touching associations--human hands have wrought, and human deeds hallowed all around.

And it is here that taste, which is the perception of the beautiful, and the knowledge of the principles on which nature works, can be applied, and our dwelling-places made fitting for refined and intellectual beings.

[2. The Advantages of Cultivating a Taste for Scenery]

If, then, it is indeed true that the contemplation of scenery can be so abundant a source of delight and improvement, a taste for it is certainly worthy of particular cultivation; for the capacity for enjoyment increases with the knowledge of the true means of obtaining it.

In this age, when a meager utilitarianism seems ready to absorb every feeling and sentiment, and what is sometimes called improvement in its march makes us fear that the bright and tender flowers of the imagination shall all be crushed beneath its iron tramp, it would be well to cultivate the oasis that yet remains to us, and thus preserve the germs of a future and a purer system. And now, when the sway of fashion is extending widely over society--poisoning the healthful streams of true refinement, and turning men from the love of simplicity and beauty, to a senseless idolatry of their own follies--to lead them gently into the pleasant paths of Taste would be an object worthy of the highest efforts of genius and benevolence. The spirit of our society is to contrive but not to enjoy--toiling to produce more toil-accumulating in order to aggrandize. The pleasures of the imagination, among which the love of scenery holds a conspicuous place, will alone temper the harshness of such a state; and, like the atmosphere that softens the most rugged forms of the landscape, cast a veil of tender beauty over the asperities of life.

Did our limits permit I would endeavor more fully to show how necessary to the complete appreciation of the Fine Arts is the study of scenery, and how conducive to our happiness and well-being is that study and those arts;

- Thomas Cole


1. Christopher Muscato, "Thomas Cole's Impact on Romanticism in 19th Century America", accessed on Nov. 24, 2019 from

2. Mark Stoll. Inherit The Holy Mountain (version Kindle). New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Outdoor Object Lesson 106: River of Kindness

Key Verse

“To him who is ready to faint, kindness should be shown from his friend; even to him who forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” Job‬ ‭6:14‬ ‭WEB‬‬


What is the longest river on earth? Most people have probably heard the Amazon River in South America or the Nile River in Africa is the longest. The answer really depends on how you define river. One dictionary defines a river as a body of water flowing towards the ocean. This means the river doesn’t necessarily have to be above ground. The Rio Hamza is a subterranean river in South America. It flows from west to east 13,000 feet (4000m) below the ground. It is estimated to be about 4000 miles (6000 km) long!1

Rivers are one of natures most amazing features. They are the lifelines of the land. They deliver precious live giving water to everything. Animals go to the rivers to drink. Life is always abundant on the banks of a river. The Nile for example flows through a desolate desert. But along its banks life has flourished for thousands of years, watered by its never ceasing gift. Rivers only run in one direction. It is their nature to give continually. They cannot flow in the other direction. They do not take back what they have given. 

This is the manner in which God desires us to share kindness. Jesus gave us the perfect example. From him flowed never ceasing kindness. Even as he was being nailed to the cross, kindness coursed from him as he asked the Father to forgive his killers. We are to share kindness no matter what. It will flow from us in one direction. It is not something we are to hold back or try to take back. It is to be as a river flowing from us continually to spread life giving joy. 

I once came across a perfectly named river in the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee. Bearing the name Goforth Creek, this body of water represents how we are to live. Kindness should go forth from us continually to everyone we meet just as water continually goes forth from that creek. This is not something you can do on your own however. It is not our nature to give kindness continually. We often desire to withhold kindness from those who are unkind to us, or perhaps even hurt them. Every river gets its supply of water from other sources. If we want kindness to flow continually from us like a river, we must be connected to a Source greater than ourselves. 


Do you find it hard to be kind to others at times? Why?

What is the point of giving kindness continually even when someone doesn’t deserve it?

How do we act kind towards those who we would rather not be kind to?

Will God reward those that are kind to others? Defend your answer with a Bible verse. 


1. Richard Black, “Subterranean Amazon river,” (August 27,2011), BBC online, accessed from

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: Free-Photos via

Friday, November 1, 2019

Outdoor Object Lesson 105: On Firehawks

Key Verse

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9 WEB


Australia, the Land Down Under, has many unique and unusual animals. Some are scary, some are cute, and some are just odd. Firehawks might fall into the last category. Wildfires are common in Australia’s grasslands. They are often started by lighting and sometimes by humans. But some birds have come-to-light recently that also contribute to the spread of wildfire. Firehawk is a colloquial term referring to birds that deliberately spread fire. 

There are three known species that practice this odd behavior.  The black kite (Milvus migrans), whistling kite (Haliastur sphenurus), and the brown falcon (Falco berigora) have all been reported to spread fire purposely. These birds make their home in the open grasslands. They prey on small mammals, lizards, insects and other small animals. They have learned that as wildfires spread, the small animals flee the flames in great numbers. So, they perch near the edge of the fire and let the feast come to them. It's easy hunting.

But what if that does not provide enough food? These clever birds have learned that they can speed up the fire by picking up burning or smoldering sticks and drop them a half mile away to start a new fire. This will cause more small animals to flee straight into the talons of the firehawks!1,2 These birds are amazing and cleaver hunters, but their actions remind me of some people I have met. Maybe you know they type of person I am thinking of. They enjoy spreading gossip and discord among others that works like a flame spreading a destructive wildfire. They think it’s funny when they hurt or offend others. These individuals think it’s fun to start arguments or cause problems. They like to be annoying or insult people for pleasure. They are social firehawks! 

These people often spread discord and cause problems because they are hurting on the inside. But how do you deal with someone like that? The bible has a lot to say on this topic. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,” Titus 3:10 ESV. This is good advice. Try to discourage such a person from continuing in their ways. If they do not listen, it is best to avoid them. They are not your friend because they do not have your best interests in mind. 

Sadly, firehawks will always be around. Proverbs 26:20 offers another piece of advice, “Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops.” NLT. You cannot always control firehawks or make them go away. But you can help stop the spread of their fire by not participating in their negative comments or gossip. The best thing you can do is pray for them and treat them with kindness no matter how they treat you.


How does it make you feel when someone hurts your feelings or gossips about you?

Why does the Bible advise us to avoid social firehawks? (read Titus 3:10 again)

Do you think people like that can change? Why or why not?

Is it our job as Christians to try and change or “convert” such people to the love of Christ? If so how?

Have you ever acted like a social firehawk? If so, what are going to do to change that?


1. Michael Greshko. “Why These Birds Carry Flames In Their Beaks,” January 8, 2018. National Geographic online, accessed from

2. Mark Bonta, Robert Gosford, Dick Eussen, Nathan Ferguson, Erana Loveless, and Maxwell Witwer "Intentional Fire-Spreading by “Firehawk” Raptors in Northern Australia," Journal of Ethnobiology 37(4), 700-718, (1 December 2017).

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: pen_ash via
Pictured above: brown falcon

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Glass Age - How Glass Invented Our Modern World

Glass is a beautiful and useful substance. It occurs naturally in the form of obsidian, tektites and other forms. It has been used by humans for thousands of years as tools and ornaments. It was well known in the ancient world and was highly prized because of its beauty and rarity. The Bible contains several references to glass such as, “Gold and glass cannot equal wisdom,” Job 28:17. While it has been known and used for millennia, it was generally only the wealthy that could afford it. Its usefulness was mostly aesthetic. During the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages glass was a novelty.

So many new forms of technology have been developed in the last century alone we have multiple “age” names to describe it including atomic age, space age, computer age, information age, etc. While these names are descriptive of very important technologies and advancements, one substance has arguably made them all possible. Its use covers a much larger span of recent history and almost single-handedly made the scientific revolution possible over the past 500 years. What is this magical substance? Glass of course.

Glass held an important place in Medieval Europe. Stained glass was central to European Catholic life from the 13-16 century as a key part of the cathedral, the center of society. It was a means of educating the illiterate masses through stained glass mosaics. Mirrors also played a key role in European aristocratic life enabling people, especially women, to spend hours a day perfecting their appearance. Mirrors also seem to have played a significant role in spiritual matters.1 In fact, after Johannes Gutenberg lost his revolutionary printing press to debt collectors, he turned to making mirrors sold to pilgrims for use in spiritual rituals. Because of its place in European society, it is understandable that the Glass Age begins there.

The Glass Age could be considered to start with the invention of man-made colorless glass around 1430.2 Although glassmaking had been around for much longer, the ability to reliably make colorless glass that's highly transparent is what has led to so many technical and scientific breakthroughs. Around the same time as the perfection of colorless glass, the art of blown glass grew in earnest in Venice, Italy. Blown glass had been around since about 1 AD, but in Venice, several significant breakthroughs took place in a short time.

In 1271 the glassmaker’s guild was formed. In 1291, officials passed a law that required all glassmakers and glass artisans to move to the island of Murano. It also forbade them to leave or any foreign glassmakers to make or sell glass in Venice. This concentration of highly skilled craftsman led to Murano becoming the world leader in glass making and likely contributed to the major advancements in glass technology. Around 1430 a skilled glassmaker named Angelo Barovier invented a process for making extremely transparent glass.3 It was known as cristillo, and this see-through glass led to the development of many technologies.4

Perhaps the most important glass tool of the Glass Age is the lens. The invention of transparent glass enabled better lenses to be manufactured for many applications. Eyeglasses were invented and became common in the 13-14th centuries, but these used lenses made of quartz. Glass proved to be a superior material for making precise glasses that suited the wearers needs.5 Alongside the invention of the printing press, eyeglasses were helpful in the spread of ideas through reading because about 75% of adults requires vision correction. Reading was a major cornerstone of the renaissance and the scientific revolution. More importantly, the lens changed science and technology directly. It didn't take long before it made its way into many scientific tools to improve them. Some include the telescope for astronomy and navigation, the microscope for biology, and the magnetic compass for navigation and cartography.

In 1632 Galileo published his finding confirming the sun was the center of the solar system thanks to the telescope he perfected. In 1665 Robert Hooke first described and named the cell of living organisms after many years of observations with a microscope. The lens eventually led to the invention of the camera which enabled documentation in perfect form. It led to revolutions in science, art, entertainment, education, history, and communication and is a central technology of the Information Age (20th - 21st century).

In 1514 Johannes Werner suggested the cross-staff, an instrument for measuring the position of celestial bodies, be used for sea navigation. It was widely adopted shortly after and played a key role in the Age of Discovery (15th – 17th century). The user was required to look directly at the sun in order to calculate its angle to help determine the ships position. Repeatedly looking directly at the sun was painful and so navigators began fixing smoked glass lenses on their cross-staff to reduce the brightness of the sun.6

Colorless glass improved navigation in other ways. The basic navigation compass had been used in primitive forms for millennia. Colorless glass enabled more sensitive and accurate forms to be protected inside wood boxes and brass bezels. One example is the dry compass which could be used in swaying, rocking ships. Glass also allowed the needle to be magnified. The compass was also adapted for surveying and cartography. The compass was a key part of the theodolite invented in 1571 by Joshua Habermel which is still a part of land surveying today.7 Later an optical scope was added to improve visual range.

The surveyor’s compass, also known as the circumferentor, was another adaptation of the basic navigation compass that was central to surveying and cartography for centuries. It was eventually replaced by the more portable prismatic compass in the 19th century. The accuracy of the navigation compass was greatly improved with the invention of the liquid compass in 1690 which is nearly universal today.8

Glass prisms and lenses were incorporated into other navigation tools increasing their accuracy and ease of use. The sextant was invited in 1731 replacing the marine astrolabe and cross-staff. This major innovation allowed navigators to sight the nighttime celestial bodies and acquire their location even when the sun was not shining—a major advantage. These advancements, in turn, improved navigation accuracy reducing travel time thereby increasing trade and the spread of ideas.9

Another key area glass changed was timekeeping. The hourglass made timekeeping easier and more precise. The exact origins of the hourglass aren't clear, but it's generally accepted that it was widely adopted in Europe by the end of the High Middle Ages (around 1500 A.D.). The hourglass was a popular choice for sailors who used it to mark the passage of time, which allowed them to determine their longitude (location east to west). The hourglass was preferred over earlier water clocks because their sand was unaffected by the rocking motion of a ship. They were used onshore to measure time for church services, cooking and work tasks. Eventually, mechanical clocks supplanted the hourglass, though it wasn't until the 18th century that a suitable marine replacement was found. These clocks required a clear glass face to protect their delicate insides.

The window is another great example of how colorless glass improved the modern age. Of course, glass windows have been around since the time of the Romans. The true importance of clear glass windows was not realized until the industrial revolution in the mid-19th and early-20th century. The see-through window enabled high-speed mechanized transportation in boats, trains, cars, and planes in this era. Glass windows have developed alongside the transport vehicles they enable. At first glass windows were small, flat, and prone to shatter. Many advancements by numerous individuals have led to modern glass windows that are large, able to be molded into curved rounded shapes, and not only shatter-resistant but even bulletproof.

As mentioned previously, the invention of the camera provided a metaphorical window into many avenues of knowledge previously unimaginable. The picture camera was first perfected in 1837 by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre a French artist. The daguerreotype as photographs were called at first soon became a sensation. This original camera used a glass lens to project an image onto a metal plate. It required a long, complex process to produce just one un-reproducible image. The field of photography was quickly revolutionized multiple times.9a

In 1851 a new technique was invented whereby negatives were produced in the camera on glass plates. This process was created by Frederick Scott Archer and could take a picture up to 20 times faster than Daguerre’s method. But the true revolution was that these images were reproducible negatives. Daguerre’s images were positive and looked like a normal image as soon as they came out of the camera. Exact copies could not be made. Archer’s method produced negatives like modern film cameras which could be used to make multiple positive prints. Dry plates were invented in 1878 by Richard Leach Maddox and again increased the speed at which photos could be taken. Exposure time was so short with dry plates that the camera could be held to take a picture and did not need to sit on a still tripod anymore. Many handheld camera models soon followed and people began documenting everything they could aim a lens at! After Archer, glass plates remained the staple of photography for at least 50 years until plastic film finally displaced it around 1900. However, glass lenses are still vital for photography from the small camera on your smart phone to the giant cameras on space telescopes.9a

Perhaps the most influential role of glass in the past 500 years is in the area of chemistry. Chemistry’s impact in all areas of life hardly needs mention. Most all the advancements of chemistry would likely have been impossible without glass in the lab. It is not just the transparency of glass that was important to chemistry. More critical is the inert property of glass which enables it to be in contact with nearly any chemical and not react. This allowed chemicals to be isolated and studied. Robert Boyle (1627-91) is known widely as the father of chemistry. Boyle used a large glass sphere to create a vacuum chamber. He observed that when he placed a burning candle inside and removed the air, the candle went out. This undermined the ancient idea that the four elements, air, water, fire, and earth combined in various ways to make up every substance. Boyle proposed a different definition for an element which we still use today and thus invented modern chemistry—all thanks to that glass vacuum chamber.10, 11

The thermometer was invented by Robert Fludd in 1638. It consisted of a long glass tube with a bulb at one end filled with a liquid such as water, alcohol or mercury. This instrument was important to discoveries in the fields of chemistry, medicine, meteorology, and many other disciplines. Although most modern thermometers no longer use glass, their glass ancestors contributed much to our understanding of the natural world.

Better light sources improved night-time activities and extended the usable hours in a day. Metal and glass lanterns became common in the 18th century.12 Advances in fuel types helped improve their brightness and reliability in the 19th century. Coal gas lanterns helped to make cities night-time friendly. Glass panes protected the flame from wind. The Fresnel lens was patented in 1822 and made lighthouses much brighter which meant ships could navigate coastal waters more safely.13 The handheld lantern with its glass globe or lenses was critical to the railroad which began running at night in 1848. Fresnel lenses were common in railroad signal lanterns. The handheld lantern also lit many homes until the electric light fully replaced it in the mid-20th century. Handheld lanterns are still an important tool for recreational camping today. The electric light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison in 1879. In fact, Edison blew his own glass bulbs for his experimentation.

Glass bottles and jars revolutionized food, beverage, and medicine storage and transportation in the 19th century. Canning was invented by a French chef in 1806. However, their seals frequently failed. The canning jar was perfected by John Landis Mason in 1858. Several companies were producing canning jars by the late 1800s which significantly improved food storage commercially and at home. Bottle making technology experienced many improvements also. Glass bottles were in such high demand by the end of the century that the first fully automatic glass forming machine was invented to make bottles. Work began on this revolutionary machine in 1898 by Michael Owens. It was completed in 1903 and could make more bottles in one hour than an expert glassworker could make in a day. Before long many types of glass products were made by machine instead of people.14

Glass also revolutionized mass communication. In the early 1800's the telegraph drastically sped up communication time. But it required a professional operator and allowed only two people to talk at a time. Telephone, radio, and recorded sound technology became available towards the end of the 1800's. But these all suffered from a major problem, their signal strength was faint and decreased with distance. Telephone and radio signals were only able to transmit a short distance. That all changed in 1907 when Lee De Forest invented the audion, more correctly called a triode. This device contained sensitive electrical components that could only operate safely inside a vacuum sealed tube made of glass. The triode allowed an electrical signal to be amplified or relayed to great distances. Amplification meant a radio could be played over a loud speaker rather than just headphones. Telephone signals could be carried across the country. Thus mass communication was born. By the 1920's people no longer had to depend on professional telegraph operators, they could receive news directly in their own home on the radio.14a They could call their friends or families directly and hear their voices. They could play recordings over a loud speaker as well. It was no longer necessary to wait for a famous musician to come to town or even for the songs to come over the radio.

These vacuum tubes made numerous electronics possible from long distance telephone and radio, to sound recordings, radar, television, and eventually, digital computers. The television is perhaps the most important means of mass communication invented. Television was made possible by two glass vacuum tubes. One, the Braun tube later known as the cathode ray tube or CRT which allowed electrical signals to project an image on a screen. Two, the triode mentioned earlier made it possible to amplify a visual signal so it could be projected. The Braun tube (CRT) was invented in 1897 by Karl Ferdinand Braun.14e The first electronic television was demonstrated by Philo Taylor Farnsworth in 1927.14f This technology became ubiquitous as TV's found their way into every home.

The first vacuum tube computer was produced in 1939 by John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry. These large digital computers made rapid calculations possible and were central to the war effort during WWII.14b Glass vacuum tubes were replaced only 20 years later by smaller solid state transistors that required no fragile glass. In 1959 IBM began to mass produce the first commercially successful fully-transistorized computer, the IBM 1401. These small machines helped bring the computer to the masses. No longer were they room-sized devices that only militaries or universities could afford. While glass was phased out of one part of the computer, it was not fully eliminated. It simply transitioned into the monitor.

The 1401 and other computers of the era were controlled through punch-card systems. Paper cards with specially placed holes were fed into the computer to input data, the computer then ran it's functions and output data on other punch-cards. That began to change in the 1950's when the U.S. military contracted with Michigan Institute of Technology and others to install the SAGE computer system. This is considered the first computer to use glass cathode ray tube monitors to display and input data. It was the brainchild of professor Jay Forrester.14c The cathode ray tube or CRT became the staple of visual display screens in both computers and televisions until the early 21st century.14d Although the CRT is gone for good, monitors and screens still contain glass today. Today, most flat screens in computers, TV's, and mobile computer devices use either LCD (liquid crystal display) or OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology. Glass is central to the operation of both.

Many of the important developments in glass technology in the past 170 years have been made by the Corning Glassware company. One of their important developments was borosilicate glass which was patented as Nonex. It was one of the first heat-resistant glasses available and was adopted nationally for railroad signal lights in 1908 improving railroad safety. Further research of heat-resistant glass by Corning led to the development of Pyrex in 1915 which is still widely used in cookware and many other applications. Corning is responsible for inventing many modern glass technologies which are central to the Information Age including fiber optic cables which transmit computer signals at the speed of light, and Gorilla glass which is on the surface of most smartphones, tablets, handheld GPS devices, and other electronic gadgets.15 They are also pushing the development of LCD and OLED screen technology.16.

Glass is more important now than ever before. It is the single most important substance in our modern world. It enables rapid transportation in the form of shatter-resistant windshields. It allows near-instantaneous communication and access to near-limitless knowledge thanks to computer and televisions screens. It is on the face of every touch-enabled smartphone like the one that’s probably in your pocket or hand right now. Glass is also a key component of many computer chips. Glass wafers are used in many computing applications in science and research. Glass has had more impact on modern society than just about any other material. And that is why it is fair to say that we live in the Glass Age.

Written by David F. Garner
Photo Credit: sabinevanerp via