100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Glass Mirror
Year of Invention: 1291

What Is It? A smooth, clear, or polished surface that reflects light to create an
accurate, undistorted image of the thing being reflected.

Who Invented It? Craftsmen (in Venice, Italy)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

You know what you look like because you’ve looked at yourself in mirrors. Mirrors have created a universal awareness of the concept of “looks.” Until mirrors became common and affordable, most people had only a vague idea of their physical appearance and rarely thought about their outward “looks.” From mirrors sprang fashion, makeup, and glamour.

Science depends on mirrors for laser projectors, telescopes, and many scientific instruments that let us see, record, and measure essential phenomena our eyes cannot detect. Mirrors on automobiles and bicycles and at blind alleys make life safer and save countless lives. But most frequently we use mirrors to study our outer appearance. We spend billions of dollars each year on beauty products. We spend hours each day studying our looks, preening and adjusting our looks, and worrying about our looks—all because of mirrors.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

The ancient Roman historian Pliny claimed that handheld mirrors made of hammered gold existed by 4000 B.C. in the Lebanese city of Sidon. However, no such mirror has ever been found by archeologists.

Polished obsidian (a naturally occurring black volcanic glass) mirrors date to 2000 B.C. They were the property and privilege of royalty. Polished bronze mirrors in China date to 500 B.C. They appeared in Rome about the same time. These, however, were small, handheld mirrors and frightfully expensive. The first full-body mirror (a Roman bronze, wall-mounted mirror) dates to A.D. 100.


How Were Mirrors Invented?

In the first half of the thirteenth century glass-making became a specialty of craftsmen in the Italian city of Venice. In 1286, the doge (ruler) of the Venetian city-state ordered the

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