The History of Plastic

The development of plastic materials started with the use of natural materials with plastic properties then evolved with the development of chemically modified natural materials (e.g., rubber, nitrocellulose, collagen) and finally the wide range of completely synthetic material that we would recognise as modern plastics started to be developed around 100 years ago.

The first man-made plastic was created by Alexander Parkes at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. Today known as celluloid, the material was called Parkesine derived from cellulose that once heated could be molded, and retained its shape when cooled. In 1907 Leo Baekeland created Bakelite, the first synthetic mass-produced plastic. In 1933, polyethylene was discovered by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI).  From the 1940’s onwards, a range of other plastics were discovered and became mass produced for a wide range of existing and new applications.

A video describing the history of plastics can be found here

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