It was a rainy Sunday afternoon in March 2009, the first time Dan O’Brien had ever seen glass boards used in a building.
But O’Connor wasn’t the only one who had a strange experience at the time.
“I was working on a project and a bunch of other guys were sitting there, too, so I was like, ‘Man, we’re not supposed to be doing this,'” he says.
O’Briens’ work at the National Gallery of Art was just one of the many examples of the iconic photo from the Great War showing the silhouette of a German officer on a glass board.
But the picture, which captured the silhouette in one shot, has become one of modern architecture’s most famous artifacts, even though it was taken in a period of relative peace.
Glass boards are still used to construct houses, but they’ve been replaced by a range of more contemporary designs that have become commonplace.
Some of the best-known glass-and-steel examples are the glass-topped homes of New York City and San Francisco, the two most populous U.S. cities.
And now, the National Archives has begun archiving the entire collection of Glass Board images in the National Film Registry.
But while glass boards are popular today, they were rarely used in the United States until the late 1800s, when a number of artists and architects began experimenting with glass in the early 1900s.
In the meantime, glass had already begun showing up in more abstract forms.
Glass is an alloy of carbon, aluminum, copper, and manganese, which gives it a “frozen” quality that makes it brittle.
Glass can be used to make almost anything, including glass and steel, but the first use of glass boards came in the U.K., where an artist named Peter Thomas set up a workshop in 1883.
He wanted to build a glass cabinet for the home of his mother, but his mother was too busy with her own business and the family was not ready to give up the idea.
Glass and metal Workers’ Union of Great Britain (WAGB) member, Peter Thomas, designed a glass and metal cabinet for his mother’s home in the late 1880s.
(National Film Registry via Getty Images) When Thomas started working on the project, he found a local worker in the local glass factory who was a glassmaker, and they quickly connected.
The factory quickly developed an interest in Thomas’ ideas, and the two began to collaborate on the glass project.
“Peter had done some work with glass and it was really important to him,” says Michael Egan, a professor of glass and ceramics at the University of Kent.
Thomas was inspired by the fact that he could create a product that he would be able to sell, Egan says.
And the workers were also interested in the idea of using the metal to make more glass products.
“There were no glass factories in the world, but this was an opportunity to make things that could be sold,” Egan adds.
So in 1884, Thomas built a glass factory in the village of Hogsmeade in England.
He set up his glass cabinet and built the cabinet himself using glass-working tools he had collected from his own factory.
He then took his work to a local glass-making company and asked them to work on some of the glass in his cabinet.
“He wanted to get the material, the moulds, and all the machinery for making glass for the cabinet,” Eghan says.
“So they all worked really hard and they came up with this very, very good looking cabinet.”
But Thomas didn’t just use his own tools.
He also used the local factory workers’ knowledge of glass to help him create his cabinet, which is why the cabinet was so distinctive.
“His work is so much more sophisticated than you would expect,” Egon says.
The cabinet, created using wood and glass, is still used today to create many of today’s high-end glass pieces, including the famed G-Frame glass table and the iconic G-Blade glass table.
But it was not the only time Thomas used the workers’ expertise to produce a unique glass workstation.
“They also made glass and wood boxes for their own use,” Eagan says.
Thomas used his own hand to assemble the cabinets.
“We found the first box that was made from glass, but it was made by a woman in a factory, which he didn’t want to be a part of,” Eahan says.
When Thomas returned to the factory and saw the results of the work he had done, he was so impressed with the work, he decided to make his own box and open it up for the workers.
The work began in 1885 and continued for decades, with Thomas and the workers eventually producing a number the sizes of a basketball court.
The boxes were made for a variety of clients, including Charles Lindbergh and the American Philosophical Society