The Government and the English Optical Glass Industry, 1650-1850

Annals of Science 57 (4):399-414 (2000)

Abstract
The concept of a technical frontier in branches of experimental measurement, such as the resolution of the microscope, angular measure and time telling, has been around for more than 60 years. The purpose of this brief paper is to identify the technical frontier operating on the achromatic astronomical telescope, where a limiting factor of the resolution of fine detail was the quality of the optical glass available. The achromatically corrected objective is formed from two kinds of glass, the common crown glass and the heavy clear flint glass or lead glass. This last was difficult to make homogeneous, that is without regions of different density, and therefore different refraction and dispersion. Unusually, optical glass had to pass a second frontier, this time placed on the whole glass industry by the English Government in the form of excise duty, administered with a bureaucratic efficiency that effectively stopped, in around 1800, the making of optical glass suitable for the serious astronomical telescopes. The result of the tax imposition was to delay the English production of improved optical glass for more than 80 years
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DOI 10.1080/000337900750013516
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