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The history of plastics

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Plastic is undoubtedly the most widely used material in our civilisation, so much so that our time is referred to as the Age of Plastic. Plastics have several advantages over metal materials, including being very light and cheap.

But how did plastic come about? How long has it existed?

The history of plastics began in 1862, when English chemist Alexander Parkes created and patented the first semi-synthetic plastic, Parkesin (later known as Xylonite). It was not until 1869, however, that the new material took on an industrial character, thanks to the game of billiards. Since billiard balls were made of precious and very expensive materials, a prize was awarded to anyone who came up with a cheaper alternative. John Wesley Hyatt stepped forward and perfected Parkes’ formula, mixing cellulose and camphor to produce celluloid: the Hyatt Manufacturing Company was the first company in the world to produce plastics.
In 1907, Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland obtained the first thermosetting resin of synthetic origin, which he patented three years later under the name Bakelite.
In 1912, the German Fritz Klatte discovered the process for producing PVC, which was to have major industrial developments only many years later; in 1913, Cellophane was invented and immediately used for packaging goods.
The 1930s and the Second World War marked the definitive transition to what is known as the Age of Plastics, with the creation of a truly modern industry.

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