It might not be something you tend to spend much time thinking about, but it is virtually undeniable that plastic fabrication has changed the world. If you but look around, you’ll notice that the things you use, the things that surround you, and many of the things you take for granted are almost predominantly plastic.
It all begins in and around the year 1862, when Alexander Parkes revealed the first moldable plastic at the International Exhibition in London. He called it Parkesine, and it was developed from plants, retained its shape when it cooled, and was the earliest (and more inexpensive) alternative to rubber. While the company that was created to sell Parkesine failed, it still marks a critical moment in history.
Years later, another early plastic that entered the world of plastic fabrication was celluloid. Celluloid, which was synthesized from cotton fiber and camphor, emerged as an immensely cost effective alternative to ivory. While you might simply take products like pool balls, hair combs, and small bowls for granted – they were once much harder to make. With the emergence of plastic fabrication, they quickly became a readily available commodity.
Fast forward to the early 1900’s and we see the creation of Bakelite, a plastic made from coal tar that would quickly take the shape of its container. This represents one of the first prominent examples of plastic fabrication. Even under stress and heat, Bakelite would hold its form; eventually leading to manufacturers in the 1920’s and 1930’s using it to fabricate clocks, radios, and telephone cases.
In the 1920’s after the development of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) as an alternative to rubber, the plastics industry experienced rapid innovation in a number of areas, leading to the development of more and more materials that would continue to be used in the future, including polyethylene, Teflon, ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), polystyrene foam, and others.
Today, there have been fewer groundbreaking advancement in the world of plastic, but the stage that years of development set for the plastic fabrication industry has changed the way we live our lives. Instead of relying on animal products like ivory and leather, we have come to expect plastic combs, water glasses, sporting equipment, electronics, and more.
For a concrete example of the impact of plastic fabrications on our lives, consider this: when football pads were hardly used many years ago – the injury rate was severely higher than it is today. In fact, President Roosevelt threatened to ban the sport because of too many league deaths and injuries. In 1910, protective padding was introduced to curtail these calamities. Early shoulder pads were cheaply manufactured with leather and foam, while today’s iterations are capable of more advanced technology and consistent quality. Today, players, coaches, and concerned mothers across the country have plastic fabrication to thank for more effective pads.
While this is just one example of the drastic impact plastic fabrication has made on our lives, it’s easy enough to see for yourself. Simply take a look around. What do you see that is plastic, and how would your life be different if it wasn’t?