The History of Plastics

The Original, “Natural Plastic”

With so many essential uses in our daily lives, it’s difficult to imagine a world without plastic. That’s likely because plastic, in one form or another, has been used for centuries. Recorded history traces plastic as far back as the thirteenth century A.D. with materials similar to the substance being formed from animal bones, horns and tortoiseshell.  These “natural” plastics were manufactured for many versatile uses, from combs to windowpanes, much like it is today.

The First Man-made Plastics

The man-made plastic in the form of Parkesine, a structural component of a plant’s cell wall, was introduced in 1862 at the Great International Exhibition in London. Several years later in 1869, John Wesley Hyatt formulated a more malleable form of Parkesine which he marketed as celluloid for use in film reels in the early years of cinema.

This plastic-like substance could take on many different forms and replace historically expensive materials. Originally used in the film and photography industries, the organic compound is still used today, particularly in musical instruments.

Plastic Use Advances with Formaldehyde

In the late 1800s, inventors continued to advance the plasticity of celluloid into a material that could be molded or shaped like the plastic used today.  The use of a milk protein called casein mixed with formaldehyde was used in manufacturing chalkboards in 1897. A few years later, a new fully synthetic formaldehyde resin paved the way for commercial uses and allowing for mass production of affordable products in the 1900s. The new material, called Bakelight, became a staple material in manufacturing. This early plastic was even tested by the U.S. mint as the material for a one cent coin.

Fully Synthetic Plastic on the Market

During World War II, manufacturing plants began implementing an efficient extrusion process to greatly expand the uses of Bakelite to produce everything from musical instruments and jewelry to firearms and kitchenware. Bakelite is sometimes used today to manufacture plastic game pieces and dice.

Over the next several decades, many new forms of synthetic plastic were invented, from PVC to cellulose acetate and nylon. Today there are over 60,000 different types of plastic!

Here just a few examples of some of the different plastics you use every day:

  • Polystyrene, or PS, is most commonly known as Styrofoam. This plastic is common in appliances such as refrigerators and in packing materials.
  • Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC, is used in plumbing pipes and the skirting on mobile homes.
  •  High-Density Polyethylene, or HDPE, is commonly used in manufacturing milk containers.
  • PET  is the type of plastic often found in water bottles, rope and medicine bottles.

Microdyne Plastics, Inc. is knowledgeable in which types of plastics are appropriate for manufacturing your product. When you contact us with your plastic project, we will help you through the entire process. We are experts in the plastic manufacturing, with decades of experience in various processes,  from blow molding to injection molding and manufacturing  medical devices.

With certifications from several boards, including the   California Department of Public Health, Food and Drug Branch, NSF International, the Public Health and Safety Company and more, you can be confident that Microdyne will go above and beyond to achieve the quality and standards you want in your product.

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