The History of Plastic

Plastic: A material made of polymer that can be molded into a shape. 

1863- John Wesley Hyatt invented Celluloid in five years, made from Cellulose, a compound found in wood and straw. This is considered to be the first plastic. However, due to its flammability, it wasn’t the most reliable source.

1907- A chemist by the name of Leo Baekeland created a polymer known as Bakelite, which was a combination of Phenol and Formaldehyde. This polymer was much less flammable and its raw materials were easily accessible.

1920- Polystyrene was soon commercially available, a soft plastic that was used for installation.

1930- Nylon became widely popular as it mimicked silk, but with more strength.

1933- It wouldn’t be until the emergence of Polyethylene that plastic would become used for everything from water bottles to bulletproof vests.

1946- James Hendry built the first injection moulding machine. This made it possible to pour liquid plastic into any shaped mold. Plastic soon became in even higher demand during WWII. Soldier helmets were lined with plastic, water-resistant raincoats were made of vinyl, planes were made of plexiglass, and parachutes were made of nylon.

After the war, companies began to shift their focus to consumer products. Soon enough everything was made of plastic: furniture, clothing, and much more. While plastic is a cheap, easy and convenient source, it also creates detrimental environmental problems. Most plastics are made of non-renewable material and were designed to be used once, but can take centuries to decompose.

In order to save our planet, new types of biodegradable plastics must be invented to replace the old ones.

— Maya Ross