History of Plastic?

Early Years

Prior to plastic, there were three other materials that could be molded and was often used as storage – clay, glass, and rubber. The downside to clay and glass was that they were to heavy to move around and are too fragile. With rubber, or tree gums, overtime they would lose their shape and deform, and would become sticky when heated. A brief history of plastic is as follows:

It was in 1839 when Charles Goodyear discovered the process that we know today as vulcanization that makes rubber more durable. He accidently discovered that sulfur reacted with crude rubber when heated and then cooled. After cooling, the rubber was still able to stretch, but showed more resistance by being able to snap back into its original form. Even after being heated it still remained in its shape, rather than becoming sticky.

In 1846 a Swiss chemist, Charles Schonbein, discovered a polymer when he accidently spilled a nitric acid-sulfuric acid mixture onto some cotton. This resulted into a chemical reaction where the hydroxyl groups of the cellulose fibers in the cotton were converted to nitrate groups catalyzed by the sulfur. This ultimately created the polymer nitrocellulose. Then in 1970, chemist John Hyatt reacted nitrocellulose with camphor and crated celluloid. Celluloid is used today in things like photographic film, dental plates and ping pong balls.

20th Century

During the 1900s, chemists continued to introduction new plastic materials, so of which made huge impacts and changed our lives.

In 1909, chemist Leo Baekeland was able to synthesize Bakelite, the first truly synthetic polymer. Bakelite is the earliest form of plastic discovered. It was synthesized from a mixture of phenol and formaldehyde. Bakelite can be molded when hot and turned into hard plastic when cooled. It is heat and electric resistant. It was used also in phones, auto parts, furniture, and even jewelries.

In the 1920s Chemist Wallace Carruthers invented a plastic polymer – nylon. It is made from the condensation of adipic acid and a certain type of diaminohexane monomers. Nylon is lightweight, strong and durable, and it has become the basic material for things like clothing, tents, luggage, bags and ropes.

During the 1930s, another plastic that is still being used a lot today was dicsovered - acrylic. It's discovery completely changed the landscape for industries like housewares, toys, packaging, furnitures etc.

Even through hard times like when it was during World War II, plastic still found it's place and was used in all sorts of applications. Polyethylene - one of the most widely used plastic today, was invented out of the need for superior insulting radar cables.

1950's saw the introduction of polypropylene, acetal, and polycarbonate. All three types of plastic are still being used today. Polypropylene for things like sheet protectors, acetal and polycarbonate are both featured in many electronic components, construction and household materials, automotive components, packaging, and etc.

During the 1960 and 1970s, a series of thermoplastic polyesters were invented. These plastics are mostly used for packaging for foods, as they have an oustanding resistance to gas permeation, meaning they help prevent elements like oxygen, water vapor, or carbon dioxide from affecting the food. This means longer shelf life or just the simple fact that good can last longer in these packagings. Then there were also the so called 'high temperature plastics's that were invented, and were intended for aerospace and aircraft applications.

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