Glitter describes an assortment of very small, flat, reflective particles. When particles are applied to surfaces, they reflect light at different angles, causing the surface to sparkle or shimmer. Glitter is similar to, but smaller than confetti or sequins. Glitter has been produced and used decoratively since prehistoric times from many different materials including stones such as malachite, galena, mica, insects, and glass. Modern glitter is most commonly manufactured from plastic.
The first production of modern plastic glitter is credited to American cattle farmer and machinist Henry Ruschmann, based on a patent filled shortly after the end of the Second World War for a mechanism for cross-cutting films as well as other related inventions. With German glass glitter unavailable due to the war, Ruschmann found a market for scrap material ground into glitter made of plastics. He founded Meadowbrook Inventions, Inc. in Bernardsville, New Jersey, and the company is still a producer of industrial glitter.
Today over 20,000 varieties of glitter are manufactured in a vast number of different colors, sizes, and materials. Over 10,000,000 pounds (4,500,000 kg) of glitter was purchased between the years of 1989 and 2009 alone. Commercial glitter ranges in size from 0.002 square inches (1.3 mm2) to 0.25 square inches (160 mm2). First, flat multi-layered sheets are produced combining plastic, coloring, and reflective material such as aluminium, titanium dioxide, iron oxide, and bismuth oxychloride. These sheets are then cut into tiny particles of many shapes including squares, rectangles, and hexagons.
Glittering surfaces have been found to be used since prehistoric times in the arts and in cosmetics. The modern word “glitter” comes from glitra in Old Norse through Middle English. However, as early as 30,000 years ago, mica flakes were used to give cave paintings a glittering appearance. Prehistoric humans are believed to have used cosmetics, made of powdered hematite, a sparkling mineral.
8,000 years ago people of the Americas were using powdered galena a form of lead, to produce a bright greyish-white glittering paint used for objects of adornment. The collecting and surface mining of galena was prevalent in the Upper Mississippi Valley region by the Cahokia native peoples, for regional trade both raw and crafted into beads or other objects.
Over 6,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians produced glittering cosmetics from the iridescent shells of beetles as well as finely ground green malachite crystal. Researchers believe Mayan temples were sometimes painted with red, green, and grey glitter paint made from mica dust, based on infrared scans of the remnants of paint still found on the structures in present day Guatemala.
Prior to modern plastics, particles of glass were used to create glittering surfaces and glass glitter is still produced commercially.
Prior to fabrics made with modern glitter, sequins were sewn or woven on to fabric to give it a glittering appearance. Edible glitter made from gum arabic and other ingredients is even used by culinary artists.
Glitter is used in cosmetics to make the face or nails appear more shiny or sparkly. Additionally, it is used in children's arts and crafts to color and texture items. The small, brightly colored particles often stick to clothing, skin, and furniture, and can be a hassle to remove.
Due to its unique characteristics, glitter has also proven to be useful forensic evidence. Because of the tens of thousands of different commercial glitters, identical glitter particles can be compelling evidence that a suspect has been at a crime scene. Glitter particles are easily transferred through the air or by touch, yet cling to bodies and clothing, often unnoticed by suspects.
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