||Event and Description
||Lacquer work - A resin from a
lacquer tree (Rhus vernicflua) this has been used by the Chinese since 1000
BC to form waterproof and durable coatings and until the 1950s used to coat
- Amber is a thermoplastic resin from fossilized trees and is found mainly on
the Baltic Coast. The material can be mixed into lacquers or small pieces
pressed into compression moulds to produce small articles. Amber is described
by Pliny the Elder (23 - 79) in the work Natural History.
- This behaves like a typical thermoplastic sheet and can be split and
moulded into shape after heating in hot water. Layers can also be laminated
together to build thicker products or pressed into wooden moulds to form
snuff boxes or buttons. The raw material can also be ground up and mixed with
a binder (such as blood) before being compression moulded for buttons and
||Tortoiseshell - This is actually
the shell of a turtle but it can be cut and shaped, similar to horn, to keep
an attractive pattern for a variety of articles.
percha - A natural resin from the bark of Malayan trees.
||First recorded mention of the
Horners Company. The Horners Company of London (one of the Royal Livery
Companies) is regarded as the first plastics trade association and even today
retains links with the British Plastics Federation via the annual Horners Award.
||Valdes describes first reference
to natural rubber in reports of expeditions to Central America. The native
Indians used the material for sports and waterproofing.
||John Huyglen von Linschoeten,
after visiting India, describes the use of shellac.
||John Tradescant introduces gutta
percha to the West after his travels in the East collecting plants. Gutta
percha was used to make products from garden hoses to furniture for many
years after the introduction to the West and was only replaced for undersea
cable insulation in the 1940's.
||London is established as an
important horn moulding centre with metal dies being manufactured for snuff
||Condamine reports natives in
Amazon basin using rubber for waterproofing and flexible bottles. Rubber
imported into Europe in 1736 but evidence suggests it was in use by the
natives for several thousand years.
||la Condamine led an expedition
to Peru (now part of Ecuador) to measure the size and shape of the Earth, he
was scarred by smallpox and shy of women but led an expedition of French
scientists into the jungles to 'advance the art of doing science' - in the
process they introduced rubber to Europe, investigated the uses of quinine
and discover platinum as well as advocating the standard measure that would
lead to the metre
||Thomas Hancock (Britain)
discovers that if strongly processed (masticated) then rubber became plastic
and could be made to flow and develops the method of milling rubber.
||Scottish chemist Charles
Macintosh begins using rubber to waterproof fabrics - the Macintosh is born!
||Regnault reports first
production of vinyl chloride monomer.
||First description of styrene.
||Pelouze first produces cellulose
||Charles Goodyear (USA) discovers
the process of mixing natural rubber with sulphur to make a stronger and more
resilient product, the process was later termed 'vulcanisation'. This was an
accident. Goodyear had been trying to find a method of preventing rubber from
softening at high temperatures for many years and in 1839 he dropped
accidentally dropped a mixture of rubber and sulphur onto a hot stove
||Payen (France) isolates
cellulose as the principal constituent of wood.
||Thomas Hancock (Britain) patents
'vulcanisation' process for rubber.
||Dr W Montgomerie introduces
Gutta-Percha to the West (initially used for cutlery handles).
||Charles Goodyear (USA) patents
'vulcanisation' process for rubber.
||Robert William Thompson invents
the rubber tyre.
is patented and commercialised by Nelson Goodyear (USA). Charles Goodyear and
Thomas Hancock both find that excess sulphur during vulcanisation leads to
ebonite. Ebonite is a hard, dark and shiny material used for jewellery,
fountain pens, pipe stems and is the basis for most dental plates (with pink
colouring) for nearly 100 years. The material can also be inlaid with metals
or painted as decorative objects.
||Ebonite is a milestone because
it is the first thermosetting material and because it involves modification
of the natural material.
||Shellac (mixed with woodflour)
patented as a moulding material by Samuel Peck (USA) for use in frames and
||François Lepage patents an
animal polymer composite based on albumen (from blood or egg white) with wood
powder as filler. The material is known as Bois Durci and is used for
moulding small items.
||First of many patents granted to
Alexander Parkes (Britain) for nitrocellulose products. Parkes was to
register over 20 patents on nitrocellulose products as the processes and
products were developed. Cellulose nitrate is an explosive (guncotton),
highly flammable and is brittle - but despite this it is a major development
in plastics technology. The use of 'Parkesine' for the waterproofing of
fabrics was patented in the same year by Parkes.
||Butlerov describes formaldehyde
||First of Parkes patents for
'Parkesine' - a cellulose nitrate based product that forms a mouldable dough
which looks like ivory or horn.
||Parkes shows 'Parkesine' at the
Great International Exhibition in London.
||Phelan and Collander, a billiard
ball manufacturer, offers prize of $10,000 to anyone who can produce a
substitute for ivory in billiard balls
||Parkes obtains a major patent
for 'Parkesine' that describes how the samples for the Great International
Exhibition were made.
||Cellulose acetate discovered.
||John Wesley Hyatt and his
brother Isaiah (USA) develop 'Celluloid' (a commercialised form of cellulose
nitrate or nitrocellulose made less brittle by the addition of camphor) to
try to win a prize of $10,000 in a competition to find a better billiard ball.
Celluloid replaces Parkesine in many applications and is used to make
spectacle frames, knife handles and photographic film.
||Hyatt brothers patent the use of
cellulose nitrate and camphor to form a horn-like material (Celluloid).
||Adolph Bayer (Germany) reports
reactions of phenols and aldehydes to give resinous substances.
||Hyatt brothers patent the first
injection moulding machine.
||Celluloid registered as
trademark by Hyatt.
||Seeds of Brazilian rubber trees
smuggled out of Brazil by Sir Henry Wickham and later sent to Asia where they
form the basis of the worlds rubber industry.
||Series of legal cases between
Hyatt and Spill (a collaborator of Parkes) over the invention of 'Celluloid'.
The eventual result is that Parkes had mentioned the use of both camphor and
alcohol in his patents and was therefore the true inventor - the result is
that there was no restriction on the use of the processes.
||Carbon fibres first used by
Edison as filaments in electric light bulbs.
||Gray obtains patent for first
||Shellac used by the Berliner
label to produce phonograph records because of the ability to reproduce fine
detail - shellac was used until 1952 when PVC was first introduced for this
||Louis Bernigaud (Count of
Chardonnet) produces 'artificial silk' fibres from cellulose (later to be
||George Eastman Kodak patents
machine for producing continuous photographic film and will become renowned
for photographic products.
||Goodwin invents celluloid
photographic film and production process.
||Cross and Bevan develop
industrial process for cellulose acetate after research into cellulose esters
to avoid flammability concerns with 'Celluloid' (cellulose nitrate).
||Kritsche and Spitteler
(Barvaria) discover and patent casein plastics (probably by accident). Casein
is made from skimmed milk curdled with rennet which is cured by immersion in
formaldehyde. Casein plastics become available as 'Galalith'.
||Arthur Smith (Britain) patents
phenol-formaldehyde resins to replace ebonite as electrical insulation.
||Stern and Charles Topham develop
method for producing artificial silk (viscose).
||J. Edwin Brandenberger invents
'Cellophane' after dining at a restaurant and noticing that tablecloths
absorbed moisture. He set about producing an waterproof material by applying
a flexible film to the cloth to prevent soiling of materials.
||Leo Baekeland (USA) mixes phenol
and formaldehyde to produce phenol formaldehyde resins and obtains the first
of 117 patents on phenol-formaldehyde resin systems.
||Charles Frederick Cross invents
'Cellophane' (cellulose acetate and viscose rayon).
Baekeland (USA) patents Bakelite, the first widely used thermoset to replace
traditional materials such as wood, ivory and ebonite. The trade name
'Bakelite' will later become synonymous with the materials.
||Rayon stockings for women are
first manufactured in Germany.
||'Formica' first produced by
Herbert Faber and Daniel O'Conor (American researchers) as an electrical
insulator. Formica is layers of paper impregnated with phenolic and melamine
resins and pressed into sheets.
||I. Ostromislensky (Russia)
patents polymerisation of vinyl chloride to give PVC but decomposition during
processing prevents commercial development.
||First production of synthetic
methyl rubber at Leverkusen.
||Hans John prepares resins by
reacting urea with formaldehyde and patents the urea-formaldehyde resin
||Fashion for long hair with women
leads to Celluloid replacing horn as the material of preference for hair
combs. Fashions change but even in 1944 most toilet goods are still made from
||Hermann Staudinger (Germany)
||Edmund Rossiter (Britain)
develops urea thiourea formaldehyde for the British Cyanides Co. to give the
first water-white transparent thermosetting moulding powder. Marketed from
1928 onwards as 'Beetle'.
||Discovery of polyvinyl alcohol.
||Hermann Staudinger (Germany)
starts work on 'macromolecules' that will eventually show that polymers are
long chains of monomers joined together (polymerised). Previously it was
widely believed that plastics were composed of rings of linked molecules.
||Eckert and Ziegler patent first
commercial injection machine in Germany but automatic production was not
possible until 1937.
||Discovery of suitable
plasticisers for cellulose acetate leads to rise of the material as a
replacement for the more flammable celluloid.
||Otto Rohm (Germany) develops
poly(methyl methacrylate) and limited production begins at Darmstadt (the
aptly named Intestine Town).
||Ziegler becomes interested in
organo-metallic chemistry and starts to lay the foundations for polyethylenes
||Wallace Hume Carothers (1896 -
1937) starts work on polymers and polymerisation as head of a research group
at Du Pont - this was to be one of the most successful groups in the history
of polymer science.
||Dunlop Rubber Co. (Britain)
produces the first foam rubber.
||BASF / I.G.Farben (Germany)
develops polystyrene and Dow Chemical Co. (USA) starts to develop polystyrene
but commercial production takes another 7 years.
||W.L.Semon of B.F.Goodrich (USA)
modifies PVC to improve processing and give more commercially processable
||Carothers develops Neoprene.
||Imperial Chemical Industries -
ICI (Britain) develops polyethylene almost by accident when E.W.Fawcett and
R.O.Gibson notice a small amount of a waxy solid produced during experiments
with ethylene. This was later isolated to produce polyethylene which had
excellent chemical resistance and insulation properties.
||Improvements to urea thiourea
formaldehyde products at British Cyanides Co. give urea formaldehyde resins.
||ICI workers (R.Hill and J.W.C.
Crawford) start to develop commercial synthesis of poly(methyl methacrylate)
or PMMA - later to be commercialised under the names 'Perspex', 'Lucite',
'Plexiglas' and many others.
||Ralph Wiley (Dow Chemical)
accidentally discovers polyvinylidene chloride (Saran).
||First injection moulded
polystyrene articles produced.
||Wallace Hume Carothers at Du
Pont (USA) develops nylon, originally as a fibre.
||First commercial production of
||Carothers and Du Pont patent
||Henkel patent the production of
resins based on melamine.
||ICI patents polymerisation of
ethylene to give polyethylene and develop large volume compressor to
commercially produce polyethylene.
||Wallace Carothers commits
suicide only three weeks after applying for a patent for nylon and before
nylon is released to the public (1938/9) as 'Exton'. Unfortunately he never
has a chance to see how much he did for mankind. The frightening thing is
that Carothers committed suicide because he felt that he was a failure -
would that we could all fail as brilliantly as Carothers.
||Otto Bayer starts development of
polyurethanes at I.G.Farben.
||Polystyrene first commercially
||Germany starts to commercially
produce synthetic rubbers, styrene-butadiene (called Buna S) and
butadiene-acrylonitrile (called Buna N).
||Roy Plunkett (Du Pont)
accidentally discovers PTFE whilst looking for a reason that a cylinder of
TFE was empty. Allegedly, Plunkett was working with tetrafluoroethylene when
he found that a full cylinder of the gas had nothing in it - when the
cylinder was cut up a white residue (polytetrafluoroethylene) was found on
the inside of the cylinder and PTFE was born.
||P Schlack develops 'perlon'.
||ICI patents chlorination of
polyethylene to give PE-C.
||ICI (Britain) commercialises
production of polyethylene.
||Plastics magazine complains of
'cheap, low-grade moulding powders, skimped designs and faulty moulding
techniques' and of the 'wild scramble to exploit every available, and
sometimes unsuitable market'.
||PMMA becomes widely used for
||First production of PVC in the
starts to produce polyurethanes.
||PTFE patented by Kinetic
||First commercial PET polymer
announced. The work of Wallace Carothers on aliphatic polyesters is extended
to cover aromatic polyesters by J.R.Whinfield and J.T.Dickson at the Calico
Printers Association in Britain and poly(ethylene terephthalate) is developed.
PET is initially used as a fibre (Terylene and Dacron - shirt makers of the
world rejoiced) and later as a film (Melinex - ICI and Mylar - Du Pont).
||'Super Glue' (methyl
cyanoacrylate) first discovered by Dr Harry Coover (working for Eastman
Kodak) during research into transparent materials for use as gun sights. The
material polymerises and acts as an adhesive by extracting water vapour from
the surfaces and the air. The potential adhesive qualities were not realised
until 1951 and it was not until 1958 that the product was actually marketed
as an adhesive. After accidentally sticking lots of fingers together one of
the first applications was as a wound dressing in the Vietnam War.
||First pilot plant for PTFE,
later to be marketed under the name 'Teflon' comes on stream. Commercial
production takes another 7 years until 1950.
||Investigations into using woven
glass fibres as reinforcement begins. A large quantity of woven glass fibre
went missing at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough in the early
stages. It is thought that the soft 'feel' lead the thief to think that it
was the new material 'nylon', then in great demand for ladies underwear.
||George deMestral (Switzerland)
invents Velcro after seeing burrs in his socks and dogs hair after a walk in
the Swiss woods. Velcro is later patented in 1955.
||'Silly Putty' invented by James
Wright (GE engineer) after mixing silicone oil with boric acid. 'Silly Putty'
acts like a rubber but can also be stretched and formed but will revert to a
'blob' after a short period of time.
invented by Joe Shivers (a chemist) working for DuPont. Shivers was looking
for a material to improve girdles and came up with the polyurethane based
||High impact polystyrene
introduced as commercial plastic.
||First long-playing records and
singles manufactured from PVC appear - replacing shellacs and phenolics
||High density polyethylene (Du
Pont trade name of 'Polythene') first produced.
||Karl Ziegler (Germany) develops
metal ion catalysts for regular polymerisation of polyethylene. Giulio Natta
(Italy) who had worked independently but also with Ziegler develops metal ion
catalysts for production of isotactic polymers such as polypropylene. Ziegler
and Natta had collaborated for some time before Natta filed a patent on
polypropylene before informing Ziegler of its existence. Ziegler felt this
breached their agreement to share their research and the partnership split in
anger. Reconciliation was only achieved in 1963 in Stockholm when they
received a joint Nobel prize.
||Hermann Staudinger wins Nobel
Prize for Chemistry for the study of polymers.
||Herman Schnell at Bayer first
synthesises polycarbonate at Bayer Uerdingen plant. The initial discovery
attracted little attention because carbonates were thought to be thermally
unstable - how wrong they were!
||High density polyethylene
(manufactured using the Phillips - metal oxide catalysts - or Zeigler -
aluminium alkyl catalysts - processes) produced and marketed.
produced and marketed by Montecatini as 'Moplen' using Zeigler-Natta
catalysts to control the structure of the polymer and to polymerise products
that had previously been impossible.
||Commercial production of
polycarbonate resins produced from bis-phenol A in both Germany (Bayer) and
USA (General Electric Co.).
||Acetals (POM) introduced by Du
Pont (USA) under the trade name 'Delrin'.
||Polyimides introduced by Du Pont
||Ziegler and Natta share Nobel
Prize for Chemistry for the synthesis of polymers.
||Polysulphones introduced by
Union Carbide (USA).
||PPO introduced by General
Electric Co. (USA) and Aku (Holland).
||Aromatic polyesters, ionomers
crisis strikes! Crude oil prices increase by 300%, ethylene prices increase
by 200% and most other petrochemical based polymers increase by between 50%
and 100%. Reprocessing begins.
||DuPont releases Zytel ST (PA
patents on PP (see Zeigler and Natta above) are about to run out and plant is
being built throughout Europe to produce PP (later to be called 'the new mild
||PEEK first prepared by ICI
||ICI and Bayer launch PEEK, PES
and PPS as the new engineering thermoplastics. The costs are enormous but
specialist applications create a lasting market even after ICI retreats from
the plastics market.
||Warner Lambert develops Novon -
a starch which is also an injection mouldable plastic, ICI launches Biopol.
Both are bio-degradeable plastics.
||New commercially important
polymers are unlikely to be developed from scratch and the emphasis is now on
compounding existing polymers to create composites with improved properties.
Some of the most exciting developments are in the use of cellulose fillers
(wood flour, flax and many others) to extend and improve the plastics
||Polypropylene described as 'the
new mild steel' by Alan Griffiths.
||'Formica' company seeks Chapter
11 protection in USA. The end of an era?