History

 

Over 100 years of plastics

Humankind worked hard from the earliest times to develop materials which would offer benefits not found in natural products. The development of plastic materials started with the use of natural materials with plastic properties (e.g., chewing gum, shellac) then evolved with the development of chemically modified natural materials (e.g., rubber, nitrocellulose, collagen, galalite) and finally the wide range of completely synthetic material that we would recognise as modern plastics started to be developed around 100 years ago. Perhaps the earliest example was invented by Alexander Parkes in 1855. We know it today as celluloid, but he named it Parkesine. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was first polymerised between 1838-1872 and a key breakthrough came in 1907 when Leo Baekeland created Bakelite, the first real synthetic, mass-produced plastic.

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