Chemistry News

History of Plastics

Plastics are absolutely everywhere: in mobile phones, cars, almost everything in your kitchen, and they constitute plastic bags, toys, even most of our clothes. But do we know who invented them?

However, the first person to construct a man-made plastic was Alexander Parkes, in 1855, who created the rather daftly named Parkesine. An inventor, Parkes intended for this plastic to be used as a waterproof coating for fabric clothes.

Whilst he and his business went bankrupt, Parkes’s invention kickstarted the plastic industry. In 1907, an American chemist, Leo Baekeland, created another humbly named plastic, Bakelite, which was simply a malleable chemical substance made from two other chemicals.

Soon after, Bakelite began to be used in all sorts of machines, and the world of plastic that we know now was born.

  • One of the earliest examples was invented by Alexander Parkes in 1855, who named his invention Parkesine. We know it today as celluloid.

  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was first polymerised between 1838-1872.

  • A key breakthrough came in 1907, when Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland created Bakelite, the first real synthetic, mass-produced plastic

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