Roberta McKern: Exploring the era of plastics at East Linn Museum


August 25, 2021

Provided photo

Dr. Leo H. Baekeland (1916)

In the mid-1940s, following World War II, an optimistic announcement declared that the era of plastics had arrived.

In reality, plastics of some sort had been around since 1869, when John Wesley Hyatt sought to produce a better billiard ball. He hoped to find a substitute for the ivory generally used, but without luck. Not until the latter part of the 19th century did celluloid come along. A product of plant nitrates (cellulose) and carbolic acid put together, it proved to be moldable and easily shaped. That is "plastic." The name stuck.

Cellulose had various uses, among them making toys, b...

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