2.0 Natural original plastics (see also the link above)
Many ancient peoples worldwide
used naturally occurring plastics for a range of decorative and functional
purposes. These included materials such as bitumen, amber, waxes, lac and
rubbers and especially horns of different types were moulded or shaped,
some being filled and used as coatings (ref. 8.4). In the last
millennium more systematic developments and commercial applications led to
increasingly rapid changes.
2.1 Some notable
1284 The Horners Company was recorded and it was awarded a
Royal Charter in 1638. By 1725
was a major centre for moulding of horn.
1850s Shellac compounded with wood flour was patented in
(S. Peck, J. Critchlow)
and moulded into union cases, picture frames, etc.
1855 Bois durci was patented by Francois Lepage, being
hard dark mouldings of albumen or blood with wood flour capable of durable
fine replication under heat and pressure.
1880 Phonograph records (Berliner) based on shellac
compounds were introduced and continued until PVC was used in the
1897 Casein plastics derived from milk patented by
Adolph Spitteler (Bavaria).
This important material was developed by Erinoid (1909) for a range of
pastel and coloured items.
2.2 Gutta Percha (GP) (reference 8.6)
This plastic material made
contributions in many fields over a long time period and is worthy of
1656 John Tredescant
from the Far Eastern Palaquium
ree bark. This produced a hard material mouldable by heat to
soften and rovide products which proved to have unique
1843 Dr William Montgomerie
introduced GP to the Royal Society of Arts and illustrated its moulding
properties. Excellent electrical and chemical resistances underpinned
technical progress, whilst imitation wood mouldings provided artistic
used GP for handles and golf balls which, in 1846, revolutionised the game.
1845 Gutta Percha Co. (C.
Hancock, H. Bewley)
was founded in London
and developed an extrusion process for rods and tubing. Bewley,
1845-50, designed the first extruder for applying GP and rubber insulation
to copper cables used in submarine telegraph links. The company
became The Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Co. Ltd. (Telcon) which
continued manufacturing submarine cable for over a century.
1846 R. and
J. Dick Ltd., founded in Glasgow,
are still making belting from GP.
first temporary dental filling compound employed GP.
1851 The Great
Exhibition featured over 100 applications of GP.
3.0 Rubber and derivatives (reference 8.6)
1730 Charles Marie de la Condamine
reported long established rubber
uses in the Amazonian basin, e.g. bottles. Imports
to Europe developed from his work with
1770 Joseph Priestly (of
oxygen fame) gave rubber its name because of its ability to rub out
charcoal marks on paper (India Rubber).
1820-43 Thomas Hancock investigated intensively the moulding of
masticated rubber and its many uses.
1839 Charles Goodyear (USA)
revealed vulcanisation of rubber with sulphur, allowing formulation
variables to provide a wide range of resilience in mouldings.
1843 Hancock refined and
patented vulcanisation, establishing the UK rubber industry with
products including boats, springs, hoses and bands. Vulcanite (hard
rubber or ebonite) was an important innovation.
1846 Charles Macintosh
bought Alexander Parkes’ ‘cold cure’ vulcanisation process
which allowed production of brightly coloured fabrics using organic dyes.
1851 Nelson Goodyear (USA)
patented ebonite primary thermosetting material for demanding
applications, e.g. battery boxes, pumps, telephones, dental plates and
1861 Francis Shaw introduced
the first screw extruder for rubber production.
1920 Peter Schidrowitz
prepared prevulcanized latex, leading to the 'dipped rubber goods'
Plastics (reference 8.2, 8.4, 8.5)
refers essentially to plastics based on chemical modifications of natural
polymers, especially cellulose where improved controlled products preceded
the more modern eras following. (Sulphur modified rubbers covered in
Section 3.2. related.)
1846-68 Alexander Parkes followed Schonbein’s earlier work with detailed studies of nitro-cellulose as a
thermoplastic base material. A great stride forward was made with Parkesine
moulded from doughs
to resemble ivory or horn. New products in controlled volume outputs
became possible. Over 20 patents were filed. Parkesine was introduced at the
1862 London Exhibition.
1869-70 John Wesley Hyatt (USA) patented Celluloid - a camphor
modified cellulose nitrate - a readily mouldable material for billiard
balls, spectacle frames, photographic film, etc.
1877-84 Extensive legal actions between Hyatt and Spill
established Parkes as the true inventor of camphor modified cellulose
nitrate. In 1878 J. W. Hyatt was granted US Patent 202441 for
injection moulding thermoplastics.
1880 Cellulose nitrate combs began to be
mass produced by BXL which by the 1890s caused a decline in the
crafting of tortoiseshell and horn products. By 1920 celluloid
replaced such combs and its use continued until the 1950s.
1887 The Revd. Hannibal Goodwin patented celluloid
film for photographic and other uses.
1892 Cross, Bevan and Beadle patented cellulose
acetate regenerated from chemically treated wood pulp for fibres and
threads. This was followed by Cross and Bevan producing tough, fire
resistant thermoplastic products many colours for applications spanning
some 50 years.
1905 J. Edwin Brandenberger (USA) invented
cellophane used in thin films for fabrics and packaging providing major
applications for many years.
5.0 Early synthetic plastics era
This era provided progress
from initial fully synthesised plastics where the physics and chemistry
were not fully understood but which led to the basis and development of
later ‘designed’ molecular plastics. Great impetus came from coal and oil
developments and particularly the industrial demands of the Great War such
as urgent volume replacements of natural material sources.
5.1 Synthetic rubbers
1900 J. Kondakov (Ger.) synthesised methyl rubber
1910 S. V. Lebedev (USSR) produced (BR)
rubber from poly (1, 3 butadiene).
1915 Synthetic methyl rubber production
began in Leverkusen.
1930 E. Tschunker developed nitrile
rubbers (BUNA) produced in 1939 in the USA.
1931 W. Carothers et al (Du Pont USA)
1937 O. Bayer (Ger.) developed urethane rubbers introduced
in the same year by R. M. Thomas ((USA).
1939-40 Waldo Semon (Goodrich) developed viable polybutadiene
and styrene-butadiene rubbers which made major contributions to World War
1943 Silicone polymers were introduced
by Dow Corning Corporation following much earlier work by Frederick
Kipping on organo-silicon
Many rubber and elastomer
variants were later developed using controlled molecular (block) structures.
5.2 Synthetic plastics
1899 Arthur Smith patented
phenol-formaldehyde resins to replace ebonite for electrical insulation.
1904 The Fireproof Celluloid Syndicate
(later became the Damask Lacquer Co. Ltd. - Sir James Swinburne) developed
phenol-formaldehyde lacquers for metal.
1907 Leo Baekeland (USA) formed
phenol-formaldehyde resins (p/f) and produced over 100 patents.
1909 Leo Baekeland patents Bakelite,
the first major thermoset
material to replace wood, ivory, ebonite, etc.
1910 Formica electrical
insulation laminate was produced by H. Faber and D O’Conor (USA) using p/f resin impregnated paper plies.
1912 I. Ostromislensky (Russ.) patented the
polymerisation of vinyl chloride to give unstable PVC polymer (unstable
when not modified).
1913 Klatte produced polyvinyl
1918 Hans Johns patented
1922 Herman Staudinger (Ger.)
proposed long chain molecular structures for polymers and synthesised
1924-28 Edmund Rossiter developed water-white transparent mouldings
from thiourea-formaldehyde resins (marketed as Beetle resins from 1928).
1926 The first truly successful
commercial injection moulding machine was produced in 1926 by Eckert and
Ziegler (German Patent 495362).
1927 Otto Rohm (Ger.)
developed poly (methyl methacrylate)
1927-37 Wallace Carothers headed major Du Pont team into
macromolecules, e.g. Neoprene rubber introduced in 1931
followed in 1934 with Nylon fibre (Nylon 66; Hill).
1931 Heidrich (Germany) produced the first
screw extruder specifically for thermoplastic processing.
1938 Nylon 6 fibre (Schlack, I. G.
commercially produced as Perlon.
1932 J. Crawford, R. Hill, ICI,
introduced PMMA -
Perspex, followed by others.
1933-40 Henkel patented melamine production for melamine
formaldehyde resins. Developed by Ciba, American Cyanamid as basis
for moulding powders (Melaware)
and M-F surfaced laminates (Formica).
1933 W. Semon produced stable PVC polymer
1933 R. Whiley (Dow) discovered polyvinylidene
1933 First injection moulded
polystyrene articles produced following earlier work by BASF and
Dow Chemicals (produced in scale in 1937).
1933 Fawcett and R. O. Gibson
(ICI) discovered low density polythene, full commercial production in 1939.
1933 Carlton Ellis patented unsaturated
polyester resins, introduced commercially into the USA 1941. (Cold-cured styrenated
polyesters introduced in 1946 for fibre reinforced plastics.)
1937 Hans Kellerer (Austria) introduced a fully
automatic injection moulding machine capable of continuous operation.
R. Colombo and C. Pasquetti
produced the first twin screw extrusion machines.
1938 R. Plunkett (Du Pont)
1939 Bayer, I. G. Farben
introduced polyurethane systems.
6.0 Pre- and post space age plastics
1939 Castan in Ciba (Swiss) produced
foundation epoxy resins. 1945 Ciba produced epoxy resins following
pre-cursor work by Schlack
(Ger.) using bisphenol A/glycidyl ethers.
1940 Du Pont introduced Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) polymer, an early engineering product.
1940 PET - poly(ethylene-terephthalate) synthesised by J.
R. Whitfield and J. T. Dickson at Calico Printers Association. ICI Terylene
fibres and Melinex
films followed (also Dacron and Mylar from Du Pont). In 1977 oriented
blow moulded drinks containers were launched based on PET polymers and
other types, e.g. PBT – poly(butyl-terephthalate).
1947 Formica melamine faced decorative
p/f laminates were introduced to the UK.
1953 Karl Ziegler with E.
produced high molecular weight, low pressure poly(ethylene) using organo-metallic
catalysts; a major step forward.
1953 Drs H. Schnell (Bayer) and D. Fox
(General Electric) independently produced polycarbonate pioneering
engineering polymer. Industrial production after 1958 provided the
basis of optical discs and high impact resistant applications.
1954 Isotactic polypropylene discovered
using Ziegler type catalysts. ICI produced ‘Propathene’ used in high volumes
for demanding domestic and engineering applications.
1955 Du Pont patented EVA
(ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymer) with the Elvax range launched in
1960. This is a versatile range of products.
1959 Du Pont launched Delrin - polyformaldehyde
polymer based on work under Robert McDonald since 1947. This proved
to be a valuable light engineering polymer.
1961-62 Du Pont introduced polyimide films (Kapton) and varnishes and later
foams for composite structures. The resins are capable of high insulation,
fire resistant and mechanical properties.
1964 Polyphenylene oxide (PPO)
polymers were patented by General Electric (USA) and introduced as the
Noryl range in 1966. These were widely used as high performance
1965 Union Carbide, 3M and ICI produced polysulphone
thermoplastic engineering polymer.
1965 PEEK - Poly(ether.ether ketone) resistant chemical and
engineering polymer produced by ICI.
1966 Fekete et al synthesised vinyl
ester polymers (bisphenol
A/acrylic variants). Produced by Dow Chemical Co. as the Derakane
7.0 Later developments
Further modified polymers and
composites followed for high performance applications. The advent and
development of fibres, e.g. glass, carbon, polyaramid, ceramics, etc., have
provided the key backbones for fibre reinforced polymer matrix systems of
outstanding performance levels. The greater understanding of control,
manufacture, design and test techniques has allowed for fine tuning in
space and electronic age applications. Military and civilian
applications have also used selected properties such as mechanical and heat
resistance to achieve high levels of performance. Coatings and
adhesive systems have been vital contributors and cannot be ignored.
Recommendations for further reading
Some contributory references
are given on the following page (Section 8).
Readers are referred to the proceedings of the
Plastics Historical Society - journals, newsletters and compact discs.
8.0 Some contributory references
who in polymers’.
8.2 The First Century of Plastics - Celluloid and its Sequel; Morris Kaufman 1961;
8.3 Paint Technology Manuals series - Oil and Colour
Chemists Association; Chapman and Halley (c.1962).
8.4 Early Plastics; Sylvia Katz; Shire
Publications Ltd., 1994. (Illustrated guide to plastics and design.)
8.5 Early Plastics - Perspectives 1850-1950,
ed. Susan Mossman, Leicester University Press 1997.
8.6 Tears of the Tree; John Loadman; Oxford
University Press, 2005.
(Definitive rubber history and technology.)
8.7 The Technology of Adhesives; Delmonte;
Reinhold Publishing Corp., 1947. (Wide ranging details of many
8.8 Developments in Reinforced Plastics; ed. G.
Pritchard; Applied Science Publishers, 1980. (Reviews of many
8.9 Fibre Composite Hybrid Materials; ed. N. L. Hancox;
Applied Science Publishers, 1981. (High performance polymers,
adhesives and reinforcements etailed for design and moulding of composites
for demanding applications, e.g. prosthetics.)
8.10 ‘Plastics- The Layman’s Guide by James Maxwell, IOM Communications Ltd., 1999.