A Brief History Of Plastics Essay Research

A Brief History Of Plastics Essay, Research Paper

A History of Plastic

Plastics are a huge part of our lives. Most people use different types of plastics hundreds of times a day. Most of those people don?t even know what type of plastic they are using. If you would walk up to someone on the street, and ask them if they knew the difference between a thermoplastic and a thermoset, I bet that they wouldn?t have any idea on what you are even talking about. I am going to explain about most of the different types of plastics that most people use everyday.

The first plastic was created by a man named Alexander Parkes. It was unveiled at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London, England. It was unofficially named Parkesine, after Parkes. This plastic was made of cellulose. He had heated it to melt it down, but when he did this, the cellulose retained its shape when it cooled. While people were astonished with his new discovery, Parkes probably said something like, ?My new material can do anything that rubber can now, and at a lower price!? This was very true, but the raw materials needed to create it were very expensive, and investors soon stopped making it all together.

The second plastic was discovered entirely on accident. You see, during the latter part of the 19th century, ivory prices were high and supplies were running out. This ivory was used to make billiard balls. So, many people set out to find a replacement material to make billiard balls. John Wesley Hyatt, an American scientist, discovered celluloidTM. He spilled a bottle of collodin in his workshop and noticed that, when it dried, retained its shape and became hard. There was only one problem, the balls exploded when they made contact with each other! To cure this problem, he added camphor. Camphor is a derivative of the laurel tree. This new material was the very first thermoplastic, which is a plastic that retains its shape when it is heated in high pressure.

Now that you know what a thermoplastic is, and what the first ever was, its time to learn about the first thermoset. A thermoset is similar to a thermoplastic, but it has its differences. Thermosets need to be heated in high pressure to retain their shape as well. Thermosets on the other hand never lose their shape. In fact they stay practically the same forever. The first thermoset was a plastic made by the New York chemist, Leo Baekeland, created a liquid called bakelite resin. Using a machine he created, the Bakelizer, which was designed to vary heat and pressure very accurately to control volatile chemicals. He then added the resin to the pot-like apparatus. It quickly took shape of the container and hardened. The new plastic did not burn, melt, boil, or dissolve in any common acid! What a discovery! This was also the very first completely synthetic material made.

There are many plastics around, each with its own uses and properties. They are used in the military, commercially, and in our homes. Each one plays a specific part in our society. I did not include every plastic, only the first of each major plastic. Look around one day, and try and find out what plastics you see are, and what the world would be like without them!


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