Monday, September 10, 2007

The history of plastic

The early years:

  • The first man-made plastic was unveiled by Alexander Parkes at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. Created to replace rubber at a lower cost.
  • John Wesley Hyatt invented celluloid in 1869. Created to replace ivory in billiard balls.
  • The first completely synthetic man-made substance was discovered in 1907, when Leo Baekeland, a New York chemist, developed a liquid resin that he named Bakelite. Various uses include: weaponry, lightweight war machinery, and is currently a still produced.
  • 1872 - Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC - first created by Eugen Baumann.
  • 1894, British inventors, Charles Cross, Edward Bevan, and Clayton Beadle, patented a safe a practical method of making viscose rayon. Created specifically to be artificial silk.
  • Cellophane was created in 1908 by Dr. Jacques Edwin Brandenberger. Created to make waterproof tablecloths.
Rush of innovation:

  • 1926 - Vinyl or PVC - Walter Semon invented a plasticized PVC. Semon accidentally created this when attempting to bind rubber to metal.
  • 1933 - Polyvinylidene chloride or Saran also called PVDC - accidentally discovered by Ralph Wiley, a Dow Chemical lab worker. First created to protect military equipment.
  • Also produced in 1933 by Imperial Chemical Industries: Low Density Polyethylene. Used in six-pack soda can rings, extrusion coating on paperboard and aluminum laminated for beverage cartons, computer components, such as hard drives, screen cards and disk-drives. (I guess this means that I'm buying plastic whenever I pick up a carton of milk, right? More on this another day.)
  • Otto Bayer and co-workers discovered and patented the chemistry of polyurethanes in 1937. Today, polyethylene is used to make such common items as soda bottles, milk jugs and grocery and dry-cleaning bags in addition to plastic food storage containers.
  • A DuPont chemist named Roy Plunkett discovered Teflon®, in 1938. Current studies show Teflon can cause cancer and other ailments in humans.
  • Two of the 20th century's most widely used synthetic polymers—neoprene and nylon—originated in 1939 in the research laboratory of Wallace Hume Carothers (1896–1937) at the DuPont Company. Nylon is also used in parachutes and ropes.
  • Unsaturated Polyester also called PET patented by John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson in 1942. No, this isn't responsible for the awful clothes of the 70's. PET is used for engine parts, covers, electrical terminal boxes, swimming pools, and boats.
Space age:
I probably missed a few, but I learned a lot.

No comments: