Who Invented Plastic?Who invented plastic? Plastic plays an important role in space exploration. New plastic materials are constantly being researched to survive the harsh environment of space. Plastics are used to "dress" an insulate spacecraft and they are used to in astronauts suits.
The inventor of plastic, Alexander Parkes, was born in Birmingham? Not the city in Alabama, but the one in England. It was in that city where this prolific inventor first created plastics. Parkes is credited with at least 66 patents, mostly related to electroplating. Electroplating is a process of coating a surface in a metallic layer. However, his most famous invention was unrelated to this process; he is primarily remembered for his creation of parkesine.
Parkesine is the trademark name Parkes gave to the first synthetic plastic. This hard and brittle material was a cellulose-based compound that could be molded when heated and maintain its shape after cooling. Parkes received a patent for the material in 1855 and demonstrated it 7 years later at the 1862 London International Exhibition. For the exhibition, Parkes created several household items from parkesine including knife handles, combs, and medallions. He also imagined many applications for this new material such as shoe soles, walking sticks, buttons, umbrellas, and billiard balls. The next step was to mass produce the material for commercial use.
In 1866, Parkes formed the Parkesine Company to produce and market his invention. The company did not last long and stopped operation in 1868. The company’s failure is attributed to excessive cost-savings measures that adversely affected quality control. One of Parkes’ colleagues, Daniel Spill, took over the business and renamed it the British Xylonite Company. After several more failed attempts and a bankruptcy, Spill found limited commercial success producing collars and cuffs from celluloid, a compound very similar to parkesine. Unfortunately, celluloid is highly flammable, and production for consumer use was banned.
Plastic production finally accelerated in the late 1890’s when the movie industry adopted celluloid-based film. Unfortunately, Alexander Parkes died in 1890 without ever seeing the commercial success of his invention. He would likely be amazed at the number of ways his invention, and its derivatives, are used in the modern world
Sources for Who Invented Plastic?
Daniel Chitwood, Dynetics