Life in Plastic Era

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History of Plastics
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History of Plastics

The United States plastics industry is a multi-billion dollar business, and it is still growing at a rate faster than most other industries in this country. Plastics have been used in every major market in the United States, including construction, packaging, automobiles and boats, electrical/electronics, pipe and fittings, and consumer goods, to mention just a few.

Plastics are basic materials, on par with metals, glass, wood, and paper, and they are essential to the needs of virtually the entire spectrum of American business. As lifestyles change, plastics will become ever more valuable to tomorrow's advanced new concepts in architecture, aerospace, communications, transportation -- even to medicine and the arts.

Plastic materials trace their origin in this country back to 1868, when a young printer named John Wesley Hyatt came up with Celluloid, the first American plastic. He mixed pyroxylin, made from cotton (one of nature's polymerics), and nitric acid, with camphor to create an entirely different and new product. Celluloid quickly moved into many markets, including the first photographic film used by George Eastman to produce the first motion picture film in 1882. The material is still in use today under its chemical name, cellulose nitrate.

In 1909, Dr. Lee Hendrik Baekeland introduced phenoformaldehyde plastics (or "phenolics", as they are more popularly known), the first plastic to achieve worldwide acceptance. More importantly, Baekeland also evolved techniques for controlling and modifying the phenolformaldehyde reaction so that products could be formed under heat and pressure from the material. This characteristic of liquefying the material so that...
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