Timeline of plastic development

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This is a timeline of the development of plastics, comprising key discoveries and developments in the production of plastics.

Pre 19th Century[edit]

Year Event Reference
1600BC Mesoamericans used natural rubber for balls, bands, and figurines. [1]
1000BC First written evidence of Shellac
Middle Ages Europeans used treated cow horns as translucent material for windows.

19th Century[edit]

Year Event Reference
1839 Eduard Simon, a German apothecary, discovers polystyrene
1844 Thomas Hancock patents the vulcanization of rubber in Britain immediately followed by Charles Goodyear in United States. [2]
1856 Parkesine, the first member of the Celluloid class of compounds and considered the first man-made plastic, is patented by Alexander Parkes. [3]
1869 John Wesley Hyatt discovers a method to simplify the production of celluloid, making industrial production possible.
1872 PVC was accidentally synthesized in 1872 by German chemist Eugen Baumann. [4]
1889 Eastman Kodak successfully filed a patent for the celluloid film [5]
1890s Casein, a plastic derived from milk proteins developed by Wilhelm Krische and Adolph Spitteler. [6]
1890s Auguste Trillat discovered the means to insolubilize casein by immersion in formaldehyde, producing material marketed as galalith. [6]
1894 Shellac phonograph records are developed and soon become an industry standard.
1898 Polyethylene was first synthesized by the German chemist Hans von Pechmann while investigating diazomethane. [7]

20th century[edit]

Year Event Reference
1907 Bakelite, the first fully synthetic thermoset, was reported by Leo Baekeland using phenol and formaldehyde.
1912 After over 10 years research, Jacques E. Brandenberger develops a method for producing cellophane and secures a patent. [8]
1926 Waldo Semon and the B.F. Goodrich Company developed a method in 1926 to plasticize PVC by blending it with various additives.
1930 Neoprene produced for the first time in DuPont [5]
1930s Polystyrene first produced by BASF [1]
1931 RCA Victor introduced their vinyl-based Victrolac compound for records. Vinyl records have twice the groove density of shellac records with good sound quality.
1933 The first industrially practical polyethylene synthesis discovered by Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson at the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) works in Northwich, England. [9]
1935 Nylon is invented and patented by DuPont [5]
1938 Nylon is first used for bristles in toothbrushes. It features at the 1939 worlds fair and is famously used in stockings in 1940
1938 Polytetrafluoroethylene (commonly known as teflon), discovered by Roy Plunkett at DuPont.
1941 Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is discovered at the Calico Printers' Association in Britain. Expanded polystyrene first produced[5]
1950 DuPont begin the manufacture of polyester.
1951 J. Paul Hogan and Robert L. Banks from Phillips polymerized propylene for the first time to produce polypropylene
1953 Polycarbonate independently developed by Hermann Schnell at Bayer and Daniel Fox at General Electric
1954 Polypropylene was discovered by Giulio Natta with production starting in 1957 [1]
1954 Expanded polystyrene, used for building insulation, packaging, and cup, was invented by Dow Chemical. [1]
1957 Italian firm Montecatini begin large-scale commercial production of isotactic polypropylene.
1960s High-density polyethylene bottles introduced and soon replace glass bottles in most applications [10]
1965 Kevlar developed at DuPont by Stephanie Kwolek
1980s Polyester film stock replaces cellulose acetate for photographic film and computer tapes.
1988 First polymer bank notes issued in Australia


  1. ^ a b c d Andrady AL, Neal MA (July 2009). "Applications and societal benefits of plastics". Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B Biol. Sci. 364 (1526): 1977–84. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0304. PMC 2873019. PMID 19528050.
  2. ^ 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. Random House Digital, Inc. 2011. pp. 244–245. ISBN 9780307265722.
  3. ^ UK Patent office (1857). Patents for inventions. UK Patent office. p. 255.
  4. ^ Baumann, E. (1872) "Ueber einige Vinylverbindungen" (On some vinyl compounds), Annalen der Chemie und Pharmacie, 163 : 308-322.
  5. ^ a b c d Hart-Davis, Adam (2012). Written at London. Science: the definitive visual guide. 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, Great Britain: Dorling Kindersley. pp. 284, 336. ISBN 978-1-4093-8314-7.CS1 maint: location (link)
  6. ^ a b Christel Trimborn (August 2004). "Jewelry Stone Make of Milk". GZ Art+Design. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  7. ^ H. von Pechmann (1898) "Ueber Diazomethan und Nitrosoacylamine," Berichte der Deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft zu Berlin, 31 : 2640–2646; see especially page 2643. From page 2643: "Erwähnt sei noch, dass aus einer ätherischen Diazomethanlösung sich beim Stehen manchmal minimale Quantitäten eines weissen, flockigen, aus Chloroform krystallisirenden Körpers abscheiden; … " (It should be mentioned that from an ether solution of diazomethane, upon standing, sometimes small quantities of a white, flakey substance, which can be crystallized from chloroform, precipitate; … )
  8. ^ Carlisle, Rodney (2004). Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries, p.338. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New Jersey. ISBN 0-471-24410-4.
  9. ^ "Winnington history in the making". This is Cheshire. 23 August 2006. Archived from the original on 21 January 2010. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  10. ^ "The History of soft drink Timeline". Retrieved 2008-04-23.