Last Updated on January 6, 2021 by Neil Mackengie
Plastic means “capable of being moulded or modelled”. When heated, plastics are like modelling clay. They cci be moulded into shapes wtiich laet when the material is cooled. In making plastics, chemists start with the molecule. The chemist causes molecules from a certain material to form a long chain, the hnks being the molecules.
The new “long-chain” molecule acts differently from the Single molecule. The molecules are said to “polymerize” when they link into chains. By polymerization new materials are made. The hard pieces of polymer are ground into fine powder or made into pellets. Colours are added, and chemicals arc worked in to make it flexible.
Chemists knew and had worked with plastics about 125 years ago. Vinyl chloride was polymerized in 1838, styrene in 1839, acrylics in 1843, and polyester in 1847. But at that time there was no great need for these synthetic materials. Natural products such as wood, metals, rubber, hide, and ivory was plentiful.
The supply of ivory was first to used up. So a prize was offered to anyone who developed a substitute for ivory. While working on this project, Jolai Hyatt and his brother Isaiah Hyatt discovered celluloid, which they patented in 1870.
Celluloid had many defects, but their discovery led other chemists to think. about developing synthetic materials. In 1907, Leo Baekeland discovered the phenolic plastic, which was the first entirely synthetic material to be produced in large quantities. Since that time many new plastics have been discovered.
Who First Invented Plastic?
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was first polymerised between 1838-1872.