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Plastic history

The first man-made plastic was created by Alexander Parkes who publicly demonstrated it at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. The material called Parkesine was an organic material derived from cellulose that once heated could be moulded and retained its shape when cooled.

John Wesley Hyatt invented celluloid as a substitute for the ivory in billiard balls in 1868. He first tried using a natural substance called collodion after spilling a bottle of it and discovering that the material dried into a tough and flexible film. However, the material was not strong enough to be used as a billiard ball not until the addition of camphor which was taken from the laurel tree. The new celluloid could now be moulded with heat and pressure into a durable shape.

Besides billiard balls, celluloid became famous as the first flexible photographic film used for still photography and motion pictures. Hyatt created celluloid in a strip format for movie film. By 1900 movie film was an exploding market for celluloid.

After cellulose nitrate formaldehyde was the next product to advance the technology of plastic. Around 1897 efforts to manufacture white chalkboards led to casein plastics (milk protein mixed with formaldehyde) Galalith and Erinoid are two early tradename examples.

In 1899 Arthur Smith received British Patent 16,275 for "phenol-formaldehyde resins for use as an ebonite substitute in electrical insulation the first patent for processing a formaldehyde resin. However, in 1907 Leo Hendrik Baekeland improved phenol- formaldehyde reaction techniques and invented the first fully synthetic resin to become commercially successful with the trade name Bakelite. This was made using fossil fuels.

Further innovations:

  • 1908 - Cellophane - Invented by Jacques E. Brandenberger
  • 1909 - First true plastic Phenol-Formaldehyde trade name Bakelite - Invented by Leo Hendrik Baekeland
  • 1926 - Vinyl or PVC - Walter Semon invented a plasticized PVC.
  • 1933 - Polyvinylidene chloride or Saran also called PVDC - Accidentally discovered by Ralph Wiley, a Dow Chemical lab worker.
  • 1935 - Low-density polyethylene or LDPE - Invented by Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett
  • 1936 - Acrylic or Polymethyl Methacrylate
  • 1937 - Polyurethanes tradename Igamid for plastics materials and Perlon for fibres - Otto Bayer and co-workers discovered and patented the chemistry of polyurethanes
  • 1938 - Polystyrene made practical
  • 1938 - Polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE tradename Teflon - Invented by Roy Plunkett
  • 1939 - Nylon and Neoprene - Considered a replacement for silk and a synthetic rubber respectively by Wallace Hume Carothers
  • 1941 - Polyethylene Terephthalate or Pet - Invented by Whinfield and Dickson
  • 1942 - Low-Density Polyethylene
  • 1942 - Unsaturated Polyester also called PET patented by John Rex Whinfield
  • 1872 - Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC - First created by Eugen Baumann and James Tennant Dickson
  • 1951 - High-density polyethylene or HDPE tradename Marlex - Invented by Paul Hogan and Robert Banks
  • 1951 - Polypropylene or PP - Invented by Paul Hogan and Robert Banks
  • 1953 - Saran Wrap introduced by Dow Chemicals.
  • 1954 - Styrofoam a type of foamed polystyrene foam was invented by Ray McIntire for Dow Chemicals
  • 1964 - Polyimide
  • 1970 - Thermoplastic Polyester this includes trademarked Dacron, Mylar, Melinex, Teijin, and Tetoron
  • 1978 - Linear Low-Density Polyethylene