A plastic material is any of a wide range of synthetic
or semi-synthetic organic
solids that are moldable
. Plastics are typicallyorganic polymers
of high molecular mass
, but they often contain other substances. They are usually synthetic, most commonly derived from petrochemicals
, but many are partially natural.
In 1600 BC, Mesoamericans used natural rubber for balls, bands, and figurines.
Early plastics were bio-derived materials such as egg and blood proteins, which are organic polymers. Treated cattle horns were used as windows for lanterns in the Middle Ages. Materials that mimicked the properties of horns were developed by treating milk-proteins (casein
) with lye. In the 1800s the development of plastics accelerated with Charles Goodyear
's discovery of vulcanization
as a route to thermoset materials derived from natural rubber. Many storied materials were reported as industrial chemistry was developed in the 1800s. In the early 1900s, Bakelite
, the first fully synthetic thermoset was reported by Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland
. In 1933, polyethylene
was discovered by Imperial Chemical Industries
(ICI) researchers Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett.
was After the First World War
, improvements in chemical technology led to an explosion in new forms of plastics; mass production began around the 1940s and 1950s.
Polypropylene was found in 1954 by Giulio Natta and began to be manufactured in 1957.
Among the earliest examples in the wave of new polymers were polystyrene
(PS), first produced byBASF
in the 1930s,
and polyvinyl chloride
(PVC), first created in 1872 but commercially produced in the late 1920s.
In 1954, expanded polystyrene (used for building insulation, packaging, and cups) was invented byDow Chemical
. Polyethylene terephthalate
(PET)'s discovery is credited to employees of the Calico Printers' Association
in the UK in 1941; it was licensed to DuPont
for the USA and ICI otherwise, and as one of the few plastics appropriate as a replacement for glass in many circumstances, resulting in widespread use for bottles in Europe.
The development of plastics has come from the use of natural plastic materials (e.g., chewing gum
) to the use of chemically modified natural materials (e.g., rubber
) and finally to completely synthetic molecules (e.g., bakelite
, Polyvinyl chloride