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Glassmakers throughout history have experimented with glass fibers, but mass manufacture of glass fiber was only made possible with the invention of finer machine tooling. In 1893, Edward Drummond Libbey exhibited a dress at the World's Columbian Exposition incorporating glass fibers with the diameter and texture of silk fibers. This was first worn by the popular stage actress of the time Georgia Cayvan. Glass fibers can also occur naturally, as Pele's hair.
Glass wool, which is one product called "fiberglass" today, was invented in 1932–1933 by Russell Games Slayter of Owens-Corning, as a material to be used as thermal building insulation. It is marketed under the trade name Fiberglas, which has become a genericized trademark. Glass fiber when used as a thermal insulating material, is specially manufactured with a bonding agent to trap many small air cells, resulting in the characteristically air-filled low-density "glass wool" family of products.
Glass fiber has roughly comparable mechanical properties to other fibers such as polymers and carbon fiber. Although not as strong or as rigid as carbon fiber, it is much cheaper and significantly less brittle when used in composites. Glass fibers are therefore used as a reinforcing agent for many polymer products; to form a very strong and relatively lightweight fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composite material called glass-reinforced plastic (GRP), also popularly known as "fiberglass". This structural material product contains little or no air or gas, is more dense, and is a much poorer thermal insulator than is glass wool.
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