A brief history of glass and window cleaning

A brief history of glass and window cleaning

July 22, 2019

The window cleaning profession has been around as long as glass pane windows have been a part of commercial and residential properties, which is quite a long time! But have you ever wondered how it became a job, despite its perilous and hazardous history?

The shot glass, as we know it today, has gone through an interesting evolution influenced by many cultures. Glass has a long history of 5000 years.

1500 BC Small glass articles made from moulds have been found in Egypt and Syria. The first glass was produced probably in Egypt.


1 AD Technique of blowing glass was invented in the Babylon area.

  • 1620 Production of ''Blown plate glass'' was produced in London.
  • 1676 English Glassmaker George Ravenscroft patented a formula for lead glass, heavy, clear glass, ideal for cutting.

1745 Glass Excise Act passed in England.

The glass tax was introduced in Great Britain in 1746, during the reign of King George ll. Glass was at that time sold by weight, and manufacturers responded by producing smaller, more highly decorated objects, often with hollow stems, known today as "Excise glasses". In 1780, the government granted Ireland free trade in glass without taxation, resulting in the establishment of glassworks in Cork and Waterford. In 1825, the tax in Ireland was restored, and gradually the industry declined, until the glass tax was abolished by Sir Robert Peel's government in 1845.


The window tax was a Property tax based on the number of windows in a house. It was a significant social, cultural, and architectural force in England, France, Ireland and Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. To avoid the tax some houses from the period can be seen to have bricked-up window-spaces (ready to be glazed or re-glazed at a later date). In England and Wales, it was introduced in 1696 and was repealed in 1851, 156 years after first being introduced. France (established 1798, repealed 1926) and Scotland both had window taxes for similar reasons.

In 1878, Marius Moussy founded the French Cleaning Institute in Berlin, which dealt exclusively with window cleaning. In 1901, the Federation of German Cleaning Institute Entrepreneurs—which produced the first trade journal—was founded. The industry continued to experience extreme growth throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, but the First World War and Second World War both put dampers on both the workforce and skill needed. But just one year after the Second World War ended, the Central Guild Association for the Window and Building Cleaning Trade was founded and businesses began to grow again.

 Modern window-washing techniques and tools have a deep history, and many of the companies that revolutionized window cleaning are still in business today! In 1936, a Mr. Ettore Steccone (Does the name sound familiar?) designed an early iteration of the modern squeegee we still use today.Unger, founded in 1964, has had a massive impact on both the history and future of window-washing and have been in business for over half a century now. Even our own company, J.Racenstein, has been in business since 1909!


Modern window cleaning tools

The Squeegee

The “Chicago squeegee” was commonly used in the early 1900s, but it was a bulky tool that required 12 screws to be loosened just to change the blades. Once Ettore’s squeegee hit the market, window washers quickly realized it was a superior tool and the Ettore company was born. Up until the early 1900s, window cleaners were still using a squeegee as their primary tool of the trade until pure water-fed poles began getting introduced.

The Water-Fed System

As technology advanced and buildings grew higher, the need for a safe way to reach higher windows became a factor in window-washing tool development. Water-fed poles offered the perfect solutions. Not only were they long enough to clean high windows from the safety of the ground, but they offered a way to use pure water, which leaves no streaks, smears, or spots when dried naturally. These systems are the superior choice for many different applications within the industry. Most commercial cleaning companies prefer to use water-fed systems, especially since the introduction of tighter health and safety laws governing ladders.


As long as there are windows, there will be a need for window cleaning!