The Evolution of the Ampoule

Lucy Bell-Young

by Lucy Bell-Young

10th February 2021

An ampoule is a sealed vial – most commonly made of glass – used to contain a small amount of a product. Modern day ampoules are useful for protecting the contained product from airborne contaminates due to the hermetical sealing process they undergo.

Hermetically-sealed ampoules were not developed until the 1890’s, but the lifespan of the ampoule began long before then. In the article, we take a look at the (slightly gruesome) history of the ampoule and how it has evolved over time.

Brown glass ampoules

The History of the Ampoule

Ampoules were used to contain a person’s blood after death

Following the death of a Martyr, an ampoule containing the deceased person’s blood would traditionally be entombed alongside the individual in underground burial sites in Rome. The ritual mainly took place for Christians, and is said to have been a way of preserving the blood to prepare the dead for their resurrection.

An ampoule for the anointing of French Monarchs

The “Holy Ampulla” held the anointing oil for the coronation of French Monarchs, which is said to have been passed down since the anointing of Louis VII in 1131. The legend goes that the ampoule was first discovered in the sarcophagus of Saint Remi and the liquid it held was supposed to bring “fame, wealth and great honours” to the Monarchs it was used on.

Ampoules used to administer chloroform to hospital patients

Before its toxicity and dangers were properly understood, chloroform was widely used as an anaesthetic in hospitals in the 1840s. The liquid would be stored in ampoules and dropped onto a face mask to be inhaled by a patient. This was especially popular before big operations and in midwifery.

The Development of the Ampoule

As medicine and technology have developed over time, the materials we put in ampoules have also changed. However, the ampoule’s general purpose – to store a small amount of gas, liquid or solid – has pretty much remained constant.

Hermetically-sealed glass ampoules were developed in the 1890’s by French pharmacist, Stanislaus Limousin. He used them to store sterile solutions for pharmaceutical applications and this use still stands strong today.

One relatively modern use is that ampoules can assist in identifying pets and livestock. Ampoules can be used to contain radio-frequency identification data to track where dogs, cats, sheep and any other animals important to you venture off to.

Ampoules are also commonplace in the cosmetics industry. Anti-aging creams are being sold to consumers in small, one-use ampoules to “minimise preservatives”, as well as to give that marketable impression that scientific research has been the basis of developing the beauty product.

Ampoules on a carousel production line

How Are Glass Ampoules Made?

In a nutshell, glass ampoules are made by heating and reshaping glass tubes with the use of gas torches and gravity. While an expert could technically do this themselves with a pair of tweezers and a blow torch, on an industrial scale, ampoules are made on automated production lines where computer vision techniques can be used to ensure accuracy and quality. Here’s a quick step-by-step on how it works:

  1. Glass tubes are placed on a carousel and shaped with gas torches
  2. After shaping, the ampoule is separated from the glass tubing
  3. Where an ampoule is separated, a new one begins to be shaped
  4. The neck of the ampoule is then scored to allow for precise breakage when the end-user opens it at the one cut point

Ampoule Filling at ReAgent

When it comes to filling ampoules, equipment like the Rota 915 filling and sealing machine can be used to melt off the top of the ampoule, fill it with the desired substance, and then hermetically seal it with an open flame.

At ReAgent, we offer ampoule filling services, using the Rota 915 to carry out the filling and sealing of these vials. We purge our ampoules with nitrogen prior to filling in order to clean out the area, and our ampoule filling machine outputs over 8000 units in one working day. The Rota 915 machine also hermetically seals the glass ampoules to prevent any glass shards or outside contaminates from getting into your product. Check out our ampoule filling and sealing process below:

What Are Ampoules Used For?

The following applications describe how ampoules are commonly put to use nowadays. Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, but instead represents how the properties of ampoules make them useful for particular processes and industries.

  1. To provide samples of a product

Ampoules are able to be sent as part of a kit, which could come in useful if you just want to send a small sample of your product to customers or potential customers. Sending out samples could encourage further sales of your product as well as lead to some extra publicity.

  1. To carry out tests

You may choose to carry out tests in the early stages of product development before scaling up production. Ampoules offer a safe and ideal method of carrying out safety tests and checking for any inconsistencies or possible room for improvement.

  1. For use in the pharmaceutical industry

Ampoules are common containers in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, as well as any other industry where it’s important for products to stay pure and resistant to any form of contamination. Ampoules are often used as a container for a liquid that will be injected for pharmaceutical purposes, meaning that it needs to retain its quality and stay away from airborne contiminants.

Beauty technician standing over woman holding ampoule
Ampoules are used in many industries, including pharmaceuticals and cosmetics

What Does ‘Ampoule’ Mean?

The word ‘ampoule’ comes from the Latin ‘ampulla,’ which literally means bottle. Historically, we find the word ‘ampulla’ being used to describe a two-handed vessel from Ancient Rome, as well as a vessel that is used to contain consecrated liquids. This directly links back to ampoules being used to anoint French monarchs.

In modern day, the word ampoule refers to a small, hermetically-sealed capsule used for storing air sensitive or single use products.

Ampoules can be filled with 0-2ml of any non-flammable liquid that’s compatible with glass and the technical team at ReAgent can offer you advice on the best container for your product, should you require this.

To find out more about our ampoule filling services, simply contact us via our website or call 1-800-817-175 and our sales team will be available to offer you free technical advice and discuss your requirements.



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