History Of Plastic
At the turn of the 20th century
You could hardly go about your day without using an object made of ivory. A smooth and durable material, it was used in everything from clothing buttons and piano keys to combs and dominoes. However, the game of pool was actually the biggest sap on the world supply of ivory. Pool, a popular type of billiards game, required a set of 16 balls, all made of solid ivory in quality sets.
The overwhelming demand for ivory made a dramatic dent in the number of elephant elephants, leaving many people worried about what they would ever use as a replacement.
The world saw the first example of man-made plastic
In 1862 at the Great International Exhibition in London.
The material, invented by Alexander Parkes, was originally conceived as a substitute for ivory.
In Albany, N.Y., John Wesley Hyatt discovered a way to manufacture an improved version of Parkesine called celluloid. Also used as an alternative to ivory, celluloid made items that were previously luxuries more accessible to all.
The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt, who was inspired by a New York firm’s offer of $10,000 for anyone who could provide a substitute for ivory.
This discovery helped not only people but also the environment. Advertisements praised celluloid as the savior of the elephant and the tortoise.
The creation of new materials also helped free people from the social and economic constraints imposed by the scarcity of natural resources. Inexpensive celluloid made material wealth more widespread and obtainable. And the plastics revolution was only getting started.
Dr. Leo Baekeland, a belgian chemist, invented Bakelite, the world’s first entirely synthetic plastic which contained no molecules found in nature. It was also the first thermoset plastic, meaning it wouldn’t soften or melt when heated.
German organic chemist Hermann Staudinger proved the existence of what we know today as polymers.
Polyethylene (PE) was created in England and closely held as a state secret. The lightweight plastic was used to insulate radar cabling, helping to make British war planes lighter and giving them a significant advantage over the Germans.
Nylon was released by DuPont for sale as synthetic silk hosiery, but was quickly rationed by the U.S. military for use in parachutes and ropes. During World War II plastic production in the United States increased by 300%.
After the war ended, manufacturers looked to the consumer market as an outlet for their products. Polyester was introduced commercially as a fabric that would resist wrinkling during this decade.
As the space race heated up, the polysulfone family of thermoplastics was introduced and used in space suits. Kevlar was also introduced and first used in the racing industry to replace steel in tires.
Patrick and Sally Gruber successfully produced biobased, biodegradable polylactic acid (PLA) from corn on their kitchen stove.