Look around you. What do you see? Okay, try to ignore your friend picking their nose for a second. Look harder. It won’t take long before you come across something plastic. Plastic is everywhere. In the clothes we wear, cars we drive, appliances we use and much more.
It’s impossible to imagine a world without this helpful invention, but at one point, such a world existed. So lets wind back the ‘ol clocks and take a look at how this incredibly useful material caught on in the first place. It’s a surprisingly interesting story that starts with…
1. Where It All Began
Every story has a beginning, and plastic is no different. Contrary to popular belief, the man who invented plastic was not named “Bob Plastic.” No, it was an inventor named Alexander Parkes. In 1862, Parkes discovered a way to extract the cell wall from plants (cellulose) to make a clear, moldable and waterproof material. From there, great minds only expanded on the idea.
2. Elephants Love This Man
Elephants all over the world love John Wesley Hyatt. In 1865, Hyatt discovered a new way to make billiard balls from something besides ivory. By using cellulose nitrate, Hyatt opened the doors to a wealth of other products that wanted to imitate the look and feel of ivory without the cost. A few years later, it was the French who took plastic to a new level.
3. Plastic Silk?
Even today, plastic silk sounds crazy. Now imagine you lived in 1891 France. That didn’t stop Louis Marie Hilaire Bernigaut from inventing “rayon” though. This silk substitute is shiny and resembles rays of light, hence the name. This modified cellulose quickly took off in the area, but once again, it would evolve even more.
4. Revolution Against Nature
In the early 1900’s, people were apparently tired of “natural” looking items. As a result, the synthetic plastic Bakelite really took off. Bakelite was found in everything from phones, clocks and jewelry as people praised it for it’s odd, “unnatural” look. Now, let’s see what the Swiss can do with the amazing plastic.