When you hear the word plastic, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Of course, one of the most common things we see and use every day are made of plastic. Did you know that the United States plastic industry is a multi-billion dollar business? Up to now, it is still growing at a rate faster than most other industries in the United States and in other countries as well. In the United States, plastics have been used in every major market including construction, packaging, automobiles and boats, electrical /electronics, pipe and fitting, consumer goods, and many more. Plastic is essential to the needs of virtually the entire spectrum of American business, and it’s also a basic material that is on par with metals, glass, wood, and paper. As days goes by, modernization id increasing and lifestyle is also changing, for future advanced new concepts in architecture, aerospace, communications, transportation, and even to medicine and arts, plastic will become ever more valuable.
For the history of plastic, back in 1868, plastic materials trace their origin in the US, there was a young printer named John Wesley Hyatt who came up with Celluloid, the first American plastic. What he did to come up with plastic was that he mixed pyroxylin made from cotton (one of nature’s polymerics), and nitric acid, with camphor which resulted to an entirely different and new product. After that invention, celluloid have become popular in many markets, this includes the first photographic film used by George Eastman to produce the first motion picture film in 1882. Up to this day, the material is still in use under its chemical name, cellulose nitrate. Another interesting historical event happened in 1909 when Dr. Lee Hendrick Baekeland introduced phenoformaldehyde plastic or popularly known as “phenolics”. This is the first plastic to achieve worldwide acceptance. In significance to that, Baekeland also evolved techniques for controlling and modifying the phenoformaldehyde reaction so that products could be formed under heat and pressure from the material. One of the best parts of using plastic is it has the characteristics to be liquefied so it can be formed into various shapes under heat and pressure.
And in 1920s, the third major thrust in the development of plastic took place, this was when the cellulose acetate was introduce (this type of plastic is similar in structure to cellulose nitrate but the difference is it’s safer to process and use), ureaformaldehyde is a type of plastic which can be processed like the phenolics, but can also be molded into light colored articles that are more attractive than black and browns in which you can only see on phenolics. Another type is the polyvinyl chloride or commonly known as PVC, or vinyl. Another product was also developed in the late 1920s which is the nylon through the classic research of W.T. Carothers.
Each decade, there were different discovery of plastic material just like in the 1930’s. The acrylic resins for signs and glazing was introduced, and the commercialization of polystyrene as happened. This became the third largest-selling plastic, literally revolutionizing segments of the house wares, toys, and packaging industries. In that same year, melamine resins were also introduced, which later became a critical element (in the form of a binder) in the development of decorative laminate tops, vertical surfacing, and the like. Polyethylene is the most widely used plastic. Then in 1950’s polypropylene and the development of acetal and polycarbonate are the two plastics that, along with nylon, came to form the nucleus of a sub-group in the plastics family known as the “engineering thermoplastics.” In 1960s and 1970s, thermoplastic polyesters with the kind of outstanding resistance to gas permeation that made them applicable for use in packaging was introduced.