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Alastair Pilkington Edit Profile

Academic administrator , business executive

Alastair Pilkington, business executive, academic administrator. Decorated Knight Order British Empire; recipient Toledo Glass & Ceramic award, 1963, John Scott medal, 1969, Wilhelm Exner medal, 1970; Honorary fellow, Imperial College, 1974. Fellow: British Institute Management, Royal Society (Mullard medal 1968); member: American Ceramic Society.


Born on 7 January 1920 in Calcutta, India, he was the son of Colonel Lionel George Pilkington MC (1889–1955) and his wife Evelyn Carnegie Bethune (1892–1985), sister of Sir Alexander Maitland Sharp Bethune, 10th Baronet.


Degree, Cambridge University. Doctor of Laws (honorary), Cambridge University, 1991. Doctor of Laws (honorary), University Bristol, 1979.

Doctor of Laws (honorary), Lancaster University, 1990. Doctor of Technology (honorary), University Loughborough, 1968. Deng (honorary), University Liverpool, 1971.

Doctor of Science (honorary), University London, 1979. Doctor of Science (honorary), Alfred University, New York, 1990.


Joining the Royal Artillery, he was captured in the Battle of Crete and spent four years as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. Returning to university, he obtained an engineering degree, followed by a job with the glass manufacturers Pilkington Brothers. He was not related to the Pilkington family which then controlled the business.

His breakthrough enabled Pilkingtons to dominate the world market for high quality flat glass for many years. Starting in the early 1960s, all the world's leading flat glass manufacturers obtained licences to use the float glass process. From technical director of Pilkingtons in 1955, he became deputy charman in 1971 and chairman from 1973 until he reached retirement age in 1985.

For the rest of his life he was the company's president. In 1978 he was awarded the A. A. Griffith Medal and Prize and in 1983-4 served as President of the British Association. Outside directorships included appointments as a director of the Bank of England from 1974 to 1984 and a director of BP from 1976 to his death.

A passionate advocate of tertiary education, he was from 1980 to 1990 Pro-Chancellor of Lancaster University, from 1990 Chairman of the Campaign for the University and Colleges of Cambridge and from 1994 to his death Chancellor of the University of Liverpool.


  • In 1952 he invented the float glass process, in which molten glass was "floated" over a bath of molten tin and manipulated to achieve the required product thickness, and with his associate Kenneth Bickerstaff, spent seven years perfecting and patenting its commercially successful manufacture. American inventors had tried several times to achieve an improved and lower-cost process to replace the costly plate glass, but had not succeeded. In 1969 he was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1970 a Knight Bachelor, as well as receiving the Wilhelm Exner Medal.


Member Center Advisory Council Science and Technology, 1970-1995, Science Research Council, 1972-1995, British Rys. Board, 1973-1976; member court Governors Administrative Staff College, 1973-1995. Served with British Armed Forces, 1939-1946.

Fellow Royal Society, British Institute Management.


Married Patricia Nicholls Elliott, 1945 (deceased 1977). 2 children; Married Kathleen Haynes, 1978.

L. G. Pilkington Pilkington

Patricia Nicholls Elliott

Kathleen Haynes