The World-Changing History of Plastics | Preferred Plastics
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  • The World-Changing History of Plastics

The World-Changing History of Plastics

What do hair combs, Barbie Dolls, car interiors, jet engine parts, and the first American flag to be planted on the moon have in common? All are made from plastics.

Of course there are myriad of other products that fill both our history and our daily lives that are made from plastics—too many to list here—but the point is that plastics are one of the most widely used, indispensible materials in the world. Plastics are woven throughout the history of civilization, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them.plastic extrusions

In fact, the use of plastics can actually date back to the 1200’s[1], when the earliest variations of early natural plastics were used. Some historians, however, would argue that the history dates make to the Old Testament, with references to the use of natural materials for coatings and filler[2]. In the early to mid-1800s, use of rubber gum led to the development of cellulose nitrate-based Parkesine, the predecessor of celluloid, followed by the first patented plastics injection molding machine in 1872[3].

Shortly after that, phenol-formaldehyde resins were developed and used for a variety of products (including casein plastics, still used by the button industry today), and around the same time, cellulose acetate, a thermoplastic, was introduced. By the early to mid 1930s, the beginnings of the thermoplastics we use today were being developed, which became a crucial part of World War II[4].

Over the next few decades, almost every industry saw the benefits of plastics over natural products, decreasing costs and allowing for mass production and higher quality products. From telephones to shampoo bottles, Lego toys to pressure pipes for gas insulation, plastics became the most widely used type of material in the world.

Today, we are still not only enjoying the advantages of this miracle-material, but also continuously advancing it. Now, plastics are found in every application imaginable and companies, like ours, are able to manipulate plastics into so many different shapes and compositions. There’s no telling what wouldn’t have ever existed without plastics, and what will be created in the future because of them. Certainly, imagining a world without plastics means imagining a world without so many of the things we can’t live without; luckily, we don’t have to.
[1] British Plastics Federation http://www.bpf.co.uk/plastipedia/plastics_history/default.aspx

[2] Society of the Plastics Industry http://www.plasticsindustry.org/AboutPlastics/content.cfm?ItemNumber=670&navItemNumber=1117

[3] Society of the Plastics Industry http://www.plasticsindustry.org/AboutPlastics/content.cfm?ItemNumber=670&navItemNumber=1117

[4] NPR http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=114331762

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