When Was Plastic Invented? | The History of Plastics
Plastics have a long history. The invention of plastics has changed the world for the better and made what it is today. It was the year 1862 when Alexender Parkes introduced the first-ever man-made plastic at the London International Exhibition. It was named “Parkesine,” while Parkes discovered it when he was trying to invent a synthetic alternative for shellac for waterproofing. Parkesine was marketed as a better working substitute for ivory and horn.
For better or for worse, Parkesine was not a commercial success; however, it played a crucial step in the development of the first man-made plastic. Then, another breakthrough came along, and the potential value of the material was realized when an inventor named Wesley Hyatt in Albany, New York, discovered a technique to develop and manufacture an enhanced version of Parkesine, now popularly known as Celluloid.
Another major event for the world of plastics was when Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) was first polymerized between 1838-1872.
However, the most crucial breakthrough came in the year 1907, when Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland created Bakelite, the first actual synthetic, mass-produced plastic.
The question of when was plastic invented must still be spinning in your mind. And that’s okay as the question doesn’t have a short and simple answer. It’s a long tale with lots of things happening in it.
Since the creation of Bakelite, the stream of plastic engineering, research, and development has jumped leaps and bounds, offering a wide range of properties and applications to work with. It’s so ingrained in our lives that whatever you see around you right now, I mean literally right now, there are good chances that most of the things are made from plastic.
Now, I can neither see the future nor predict it. However, it’s safe to say that plastics will always have a crucial role to play in our lives for eternity.
Here’s my take on the history of plastics and when was plastic created with a brief mention of all the major events.
The Earliest – Horn, Macintosh, Hyatt Brothers, and More…
1284- The year with the first recorded mention of The Horners Company of London, horn, and tortoiseshell being used as the prime natural plastic.
1820’s – Vulcanised Rubber, Gutta Percha, Parkesine, Cellulose.
1823 – Macintosh uses rubber gum to waterproof cotton, and the ‘mac’ is born.
1845 – Bewley designs and manufactures extruders for gutta-percha.
1850 – First submarine telegraph cable in gutta-percha put down between Dover and Calais.
1862 – Introduction of Parkesine, and the successor Celluloid, at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London.
1872 – Hyatt brothers patented the first plastics injection molding machine technology.
1880 – Fashion for long hair within both women and men boosted the demand for comb made from Celluloid replacing horn, and it became the preferred
1885 – George Eastman Kodak patents the first machine to produce a continuous photographic film based on Celluloid.
1890 – Thermoforming got introduced and became mainstream, making babies rattles from celluloid.
1892 – Viscose silk aks rayon developed by Cross and Bevan.
1898 – The beginning of bulk-production of rpm gramophone records for shellac.
1899 – Krische and Spittler in Germany awarded a patent for Casein Plastic from milk. Artifacts were displayed at the Plastics Universal Exhibition in the year 1900.
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1900-1929: Early Synthetics, Bakelite, Ureas, and More…
1909 – Casein plastics were derived from milk and were developed by Erinoid.
1910 – Stockings made from Viscose started manufacturing in Germany.
1915 – Queen mary spots Casein prodcuts at British industries fair and orders various pieces of jewelry made from it.
1916 – Rolls Royce started using phenol-formaldehyde in its car interiors.
1919 – Eichengrun produces the first cellulose acetate molding powder.
1921 – Beginning of fast growth of phenolic moldings, especially for electrical insulation – Phenolic lamination will become mainstream by 1930.
1922 – Standuinger published his research that plastics are made from long chains of molecules and win the noble prize for his study in 1935.
1924 – Rossiter at British Cyanide develops urea thiourea formaldehyde resins, thereafter, patented and commercialized as the first water white transparent thermosetting molding powder.
1926 – Harrods hosts the first display of new colored thermosetting plastic tableware produced by Brookes and Adams, manufactured by Brookes and Adams, The Streetly Manufacturing Company, and Thomas De La Rue and Co. In addition, Eckert and Ziegler patent first commercial modern plastics injection molding machine.
1929 – Bakelite Ltd. received its most significant order ever or phenolic molding powder for the casing of the Siemens telephone.
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1930s: Plastics as a Full-Fledged Industry and More…
1930 – ‘Scotch tape’ was the first transparent sticky tape invented in the US by 3M Company.
1932 – Screw per plasticization in injection molding got patented.
1933 – Fawcett and Gibson at ICI discover polyethylene.
1933 – Crawford at ICI develops the first commercial synthesis of polymethyl methacrylate.
1935 – Troester in Germany produced the first extruder made from thermoplastics.
1935 – Nylon was patented by Cathrore and Dupont.
1936 – First production batch of aircraft canopies made from ‘Perspex’.
1937 – Colombo and Pasquetti in Italy manufacture the first screw extruder machine.
1937 – Commerisilication of polystyrene by IG Farben, Germany.
1938 – Full-scale production of Nylon 6 Fibre in the United States.
1938 – The first toothbrush is made from Nylon tufts is manufactured.
1938 – Dupont discovers PTFE.
1939 – Commercial production of polyethylene was started in the UK by ICI.
1939 – Outbreak of war, strategic stockpiles, and plastics in war.
1940s: Plastics in War –
1940 – Use of polyethylene in Radar. The first production of PVC in the UK. DuPont introduces polyacrylonitrile (PAN).
1941 – Whinfield and Dickson, the members of the Calico Printer’s Association of Manchester, patented “polyethylene terephthalate” (PET); following was the creation of the first polyester fiber called Terylene.
1942 – ‘Super Glue’ (methyl cyanoacrylate) was first discovered by Dr. Harry Coover, and Eastman Kodak.
1943 – The inauguration of a pilot plant for PTFE; was marketed under the trade name ‘Teflon.’
1945 – The production of LDPE led to the mass production of the Sqezy bottle by Monsanto, causing a staggering growth of the industry, with coniat8iners made to replace glass bottles and containers.
1947 – Decotatoive laminates with Formica melamine were introduced in the UK.
1948 – Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) production started.
1948 – George deMestral invents Velcro, gets a patent for it in 1955.
1948 – Introduction of 12” long-playing records made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
1949 – Development of first Airfix self-assembly model originally made from cellulose acetate and later polystyrene.
1949 – High impact polystyrene was introduced as commercial plastic.
1949 – Tupperware, a company that was going to revolutionize the plastic goods market in the future, was launched in the US.
1949 – ‘Lycra’ based on polyurethane was invented and branded by Dupont.
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1950s: Fashion, Textiles, Toys, and More…
1950s – The polyethylene bag made its debut. The introduction of ABS (Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) polymers. ICI opens inaugurates factory at Redcar to produce Terylene.
1951 – Festival of Britain – a national exhibition and fair that reached millions of visitors throughout the United Kingdom in the summer of that year.
1953 – Commercialization of fibers introduces the concept of ‘drip dry’ and ‘non-iron’
1954 – Polystyrene foam was introduced by Dow chemicals Ltd.
1955 – The production started for HDPE (High-Density-Polyethylene) in the UK.
1956 – Reliant Regal 111, the first commercially successful all glass-reinforced-plastic bodied car goes on sale.
1956 – Eero Saarinen launches a Tulip chair, consisting of a seat made of glass-fiber-reinforced plastic.
1956 – Dupont files and receives patents for first acetals (POM).
1957 – The hoop was re-invented as Hula hoop by Knerr & Medlin, Wham-O Toy Company.
1957 – Pilot production of Polypropylene by Montecatini utilizing Ziegler-Natta catalysts.
1958 – Pilot production of Polycarbonate by the company Bayer and General Electric.
1958 – Lego patents its stud and block couplings system and produces toys of cellulose acetate, laters transitions to ABS.
1959 – Mattel uncovered barbie doll at American International Toy Fair.
1960s and 70s: Design, color, and Moon Landing –
Early 1960s – Introduction of water-based plastics.
1960 – Dupont launches Ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymers.
1962 – Dupont launches Polyamide films and varnishes.
1962 – Silicone gel-based implants have become mainstream.
1965 – Dupont developed Kevlar®.
1966 – Introduction of fuel tanks made from Blow Molding.
1967 – Polyvinyl chloride ‘Blow’ chair was introduced and designed by Scolari, De Pas, and Lomazzifor manufactured by Znaotta.
1969 – Neil Armstrong stations a Nylon flag on the moon.
1970 – First yellow HDPE pressure pipes were introduced in the UK by British Gas.
1973 – PET Bervarge bottles were introduced.
1976 – plastics in a variety of forms officially become the most used material in the world.
1977 – Polyaryletheretherketone (PEEK) was introduced by ICI.
1979 – First commercial mobile/portable phones were introduced.
1979 – Installation of first double glazed windows.
1980s & 90s: High-Performance Plastics Made Everything Possible –
1980 – Pilot production of (Linear low-density Polyethylene)
1980 – Introduction of Blue HDPE pressure pipes for potable water into the UK.
1982 – First manufactured heart made from polyurethane was implanted in a human.
1983 – ICI and Bayer introduces PEEK, PPS (polyphenyene sulphide), and PES (polyether sulphone) to the world.
1987 – BASF, a German company, develops a polyacetylene that has twice the electrical conductivity of copper.
1988 – Introduction of the triangle-shaped symbol representing plastics.
1989 – First light-emitting polymers were seen at the University of Cambridge, UK.
1989 – The Gravimetric Batch Blender was invented by Steve Maguire, reforming the industry and bringing affordable gravimetric blending machines to processors.
1990 – ICI launches Biopol, the first commercially available biodegradable plastic.
1991 – Dyson’s Vaccum cleaner launched in Japan.
1994 – Smart cars with lightweight, colored, and flexible polycarbonate panels were introduced.
1998 – Freestanding Zanussi Oz fridge, making it the first of its kind product to have insulation and outer skins made in one process from polyurethane foam introduced.
2000-2010: Nano Technology, iPod, Airbus A380 –
2000s – Nano-technology became the new norm for the manufacturing industry that also affected the plastic industry in a significant way.
2000 – First commercial metallocene-catalyzed polyolefins introduced.
2001 – Tony Fidell conceptualized iPod, an independent inventor developed by Apple Inc.
2005 – NASA explored the advantages of polyethylene-based material called RFX1, which could be used in a spaceship that will take astronauts to Mars.
2005 – Polycond project is launched to research the potential of conductive polymers.
2008 – Airbus 380 comprising of comprising 22% carbon fiber reinforced plastics, flies into Heathrow.
2008 – Boeing 787 (nickname – ‘Boeing’s Plastic Dream’) starts operations; the outer layer is made from 100 % plastics composites, and plastic makes up to 50% of all materials in the plane.
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2010+: Plastic is the Future –
Plastics Blood: Developed by the University of Sheffield to imitate hemoglobin, for use for trauma patients where blood is needed on an emergency basis.
Bullet-Proof Polymer: Scientists at Rice University, Texas have developed a super polymer that can stop a 9mm bullet and seal the hole behind it.
Implantable Polymers: Medical grade and implantable biomaterials such as PEEK will be utilized in neurological applications to help control Parkinson’s disease, brain trauma, and epilepsy.
Plastic Solar Cells: A polymer solar that will work by utilizing sunlight by the photovoltaic effect provides a better and improved version of the traditional solar panels. It will be lightweight, inexpensive, and disposable.
Commercial: Space flights made from lightweight carbon composite materials will play an essential role in the development of sub-orbital tourist spaceflights.
Flexible Plastic Screens: LEDs are placed on plastic foils to create electronic devices with flexible displays.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is the most most widely produced synthetic polymer with more than 40 million tons annual production worldwide. It is one of the most important polymers in terms of contribution to the development of plastic engineering & technology. So it’s obvious I will go through its history too.
The Story of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): 100 Years of Dominance –
1913: German Inventor Friedrich Klatte patented a polymerization technique to manufacture PVC.
1926: Waldo Semin, from BF Goodrich in the US, invented plasticized PVC providing a synthetic replacement for increasingly expensive natural rubber.
1930: RCA Victor launched the first commercially available vinyl long-playing record.
1947: The first vinyl floor covering was manufactured by the Swedish company Limhams.
1950: PVC blood bags successfully replaced glass bottles making transporting blood a lot safer.
1966: Development of vinyl wall covering for supreme interior hygiene.
1979: First PVC-U double glazed windows became mainstream in the UK.
2000: European PVC industry established inly2010, ten years committed to improving the environmental efficiency of PVC.
2003: Recoviyl, a sustainable European PC recycling system, was established.
2004: First windows were made from 100% post-usage PVC.
2012: Over 142,00m2 PVC fabrics were used in the construction of London Olympic venues.
1. Why did we start using plastics?
Ans. Plastic became mainstream as it can protect the natural world from the destructive forces of human need. The creation of new materials including plastics helped to free people from the economic and social constraints created by the scarcity of natural resources. Affordable celluloid made material wealth more accessible and widespread.
2. What are the 7 seven types of plastics?
Ans. The most common types of plastics are as follows;
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or Vinyl)
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
- Polypropylene (PP)
- Polystyrene(PS or Styrofoam)
- Other (ABS, Bioplastics).
3. What are the two main types of plastics?
Ans. The two main types of plastics are Thermoplastics and Thermosets.
4. Which is the toughest plastic material in the world?
Ans. Polycarbonate is the toughest plastic in terms of impact strength. It is 200 times stronger than glass and is thus extensively utilized in bulletproof windshields and windows.
5. What are the general properties of Plastics?
Ans. The most distinctive properties of plastics are low-cost, durability, strength, lightweight, processability, electrical and chemical insulation, and shock, corrosion, water, and heat resistance.
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The Conclusion –
That was all I had to say about when was plastic invented and its significant events throughout our history. Plastic has become an essential part of our life, and it comes with several upsides and downsides as well. I’m sure that plastic in the future will become more environmentally friendly, not hurting the consumer’s wallets. It will take a giant leap in terms of technology integration becoming more consumer-friendly, inexpensive, and useful.
Kindly share your thought and reviews in the comment box.
Have a fantastic day 🙂