Modern windshields can be traced back to a fortunate accident made by French chemist Edouard Benedictus, in 1903. One day in his lab, the chemist dropped a flask filled with collodion. He observed that while the flask broke, it did not shatter. Benedictus would later realize he had discovered shatter proof glass. This would lay the groundwork for shatter-proof safety auto glass. Laminated glass would be used for windshields in the 1920s.
In the early 1900s, however, windshields weren’t being used in any automobiles. Windshields were luxury accessories that were typically considered an option for your car. Even though windshields at this time cost more for the driver, they were not very safe or helpful for drivers. They kept dirt and dust out of the driver’s eyes, but they would easily shatter if damaged. This would cause more harm than good if driver and passenger were covered in glass after contact with a projectile.
Over time, auto manufacturers began to realize the necessity for stronger windshields and other forms of auto glass, like side windows and back windshields. Henry Ford began producing his own auto glass at his factories, and eventually utilized laminated auto glass for his windshields. While the laminated windshield solved the problem of glass shattering in the driver’s face, it still was not strong enough to protect against heavy projectiles or offer protection in collisions. Manufacturers invested in the development of safety glass and innovations like using a thin layer of polyvinyl butyral (PVB) between sheets of glass helped strengthen windshields.
Around this time, auto manufacturers also began using tempered glass for side windows and back windshields. Tempered glass helped strengthen the overall structural integrity of the automobile.
Eventually, the NHTSA would make windshields and auto glass a legal requirement for all automobiles. They would also define the standards for windshield mounting, transparency, and strength.