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A History of Plastics

The BPF Plastics Timeline is a set of 10 poster that have been put together by the British Plastics Federation with the backing of our Sponsors. These posters depict the significant developments and milestone throughout the history of plastics dating back to 1284 and through the years up until the current day and beyond.

If you would like to download our updated set of high resolution posters please CLICK HERE

A copy of the 10 posters in A1 format can be order directly at the BPF Shop.

Earliest - Horn, Tortoiseshell

1284 - First recorded mention of The Horners Company of London, with horn and tortoiseshell as the predominant early natural plastic.


1820s - Vulcanised Rubber, Gutta Percha, Parkesine, Cellulose

1823 - Macintosh uses rubber gum to waterproof cotton and the ‘mac’ is born

1845 - Bewley designs extruder for gutta percha

1850 - First submarine telegraph cable in gutta percha laid between Dover and Calais

1862 - Display of Parkesine, predecessor of celluloid (cellulose nitrate), at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London

1872 - Hyatt brothers patented first plastics injection moulding machine

1885 - George Eastman Kodak patents machine for producing continuous photographic film based on cellulose nitrate.

1880 - Fashion for long hair leads to cellulose nitrate replacing horn as the preferred material for combs

1890 - Thermoforming introduced and used to make babies rattles from cellulose nitrate

1892 - Viscose silk (rayon) developed by Cross and Bevan  (Chardonnet Silk)

1898 - Beginning of mass production of rpm gramophone records from shellac

1899 - Krische and Spittler in Germany awarded patent for Casein Plastic from milk. Artefacts introduced at the Plastics Universal Exhibition in 1900


1900 - 1929 - Early Synthetics, Casein, Bakelite, Ureas
Image 1909 - Casein plastics, derived from milk, developed by Erinoid.

1910 - stockings made of viscose (CA) begin to be manufactured in Germany

1915 - Queen Mary sees casein products at the British Industries Fair and orders several pieces of jewellery made from it

1916 - Rolls Royce begins to use phenol formaldehyde in its car interiors and boasts about it

1919 - Eichengrun produce first cellulose acetate moulding powder

1921 - Beginning of rapid growth of phenolic mouldings especially for electrical insulation, with addition of phenolic laminates in 1930

1922 - Staudinger publishes his work that recognises that plastics are composed of long chain molecules – leading to Nobel prize in 1935

1924 - Rossiter at British Cyanide develops urea thiourea formaldehyde resins, subsequently commercialised as the first water white transparent thermosetting moulding powder.

1926 - Harrods hosts first display of new coloured thermosetting plastic tableware produced by Brookes and Adams, The Streetly Manufacturing Company and Thomas De La Rue and Co.

1926 - Eckert and Ziegler patent first commercial modern plastics injection moulding machine.

1929 - Bakelite Ltd receives its largest ever order for phenolic moulding powder for the casing of the Siemens telephone

1930s - Plastics as an Industry
1930 - ‘Scotch’ tape, the first transparent sticky tape invented in US by 3M Company

1932 - Screw per-plasticisation in injection moulding patented

1933 - BPF founded

1933 - Fawcett and Gibson at ICI discover polyethylene

1933 - Crawford at ICI develops first commercial synthesis of poly(methyl methacrylate)

1935 - Troester in Germany produce first extruder designed for thermoplastics.

1935 - Carothers and DuPont patent nylon

1936 - First production of aircraft canopies made from ‘Perspex’.

1937 - Columbo and Pasquetti in Italy produce first twin screw extruder machine

1937 - First commercial production of polystyrene by IG Farben, Germany

1938 - Full scale production of nylon 6 fibre begins in United States

1938 - First toothbrush with nylons tufts manufactured

1938 - Plunkett (DuPont) discovers PTFE

1939 - First commercial production of polyethylene in UK by ICI

1939 - Outbreak of war – strategic stockpiles, plastics in war

1940s - Plastics in War
Image 1940s - Use of polyethylene in radar

1940 - First production of PVC in UK

1940 - DuPont introduces polyacrylonitrile (PAN), an early engineering product

1941 - Whinfield and Dickson, of the Calico Printer's Association of Manchester, patent "polyethylene terephthalate" (PET); followed by the creation of the first polyester fiber called Terylene.

1942 - ‘Super Glue’ (methyl cyanoacrylate) first discovered by Dr Harry Coover, Eastman Kodak

1943 - First pilot plant for polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) ; to be marketed under trade mark ‘Teflon’ 

1945 - The production of LDPE the Sqezy bottle by Monsanto caused a rapid expansion of the industry, with containers produced to replace glass bottles for shampoos and liquid soaps.

1947 - Formica melamine faced decorative laminates introduced into the UK

1948 - Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) produced        

1948 - George deMestral invents Velcro, patented in 1955

1948 - Introduction of 12” long playing records made from polyvinyl chloride (pvc)

1949 - First Airfix self-assembly model initially made of cellulose acetate and later polystyrene

1949 - High impact polystyrene introduced as a commercial plastic

1949 - Launch in US of Tupperware made from low density polyethylene

1949 - ‘Lycra’ based on polyurethane, invented by DuPont

1950s - Textiles, Fashion, Toys, Domestic uses
1950s - the polyethylene bag makes its first appearance

1950s - Introduction of acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) copolymers

1950 - ICI opens new factory at Redcar to produce Terylene

1951 - Festival of Britain

1953 - Commercialisation of polyester fibres introduces the concept of ‘drip dry’ and ‘non-iron’

1954 - Polystyrene foam (introduced by Dow Chemical Co.)

1955 - First production of high density polyethylene in UK

1956 - Reliant Regal 111, first commercially successful all glass-reinforced-plastic bodied car goes on sale

1956 - Eero Saarinen’s Tulip Chair launched, consisting of seat made of glass-fibre-reinforced plastic.

1956 - DuPont files patents for first acetals (POM)

1957 - The hoop is reinvented as the Hula Hoop by Knerr & Medlin, Wham-O Toy Company

1957 - First production of polypropylene by Montecatini using Ziegler-Natta catalysts

1958 - First production of polycarbonates (Bayer and General Electric)

1958 - Lego patents its stud and block coupling system and produces toys of cellulose acetate, later Acrylonitrile- butadiene-styrene polymer.

1959 - Barbie Doll unveiled by Mattel at American International Toy Fair

1960s & 70s - Colour and Design
Image Early 1960s - introduction of water based acrylic paints

1960 - Ethylene-vinyl acetate co-polymers launched by DuPont

1962 - DuPont launches polyimide films and varnishes

1962 - Silicone gel breast implants pioneered successfully

1965 - Kevlar® is first developed by DuPont

1966 - Blow moulding of fuel tanks introduced

1967 - Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) ‘Blow’ chair designed by Scolari, De Pas and Lomazzifor manufactured by Znaotta

1969 - Neil Armstrong plants a nylon flag on the moon.

1970 - First Yellow HDPE pressure pipes for gas introduced into UK by Wavin/British Gas.

1973 - Polyethylene terephthalate beverage bottles introduced

1976 - Plastics in its great variety of forms becomes the most used type of material in the world

1977 - Polyaryletheretherketone (PEEK) was first prepared by ICI

1979 - Introduction of first commercial mobile/ portable ‘phones

1979 - First PVC-U double glazed windows installed
1980s & 90s - High Performance Plastics

1980 - First production of linear low density polyethylene

1980 - First Blue HDPE pressure pipes for potable water introduced into UK.

1982 - First artificial heart made mainly of polyurethane, introduced implanted in a human.

1983 - The slim plastic Swatch watch made of 51 mainly plastic components

1983 - ICI and Bayer launch PEEK, PPS (polyphenyene sulphide), and PES (polyether sulphone)

1987 - BASF in Germany produces a polyacetylene that has twice the electrical conductivity of copper.

1988 - Introduction of triangular recycling symbols relating to plastics

1989 - First light-emitting polymers (poly-ethyne) discovered in Cambridge

1989 - The Gravimetric Batch Blender is invented by Steve Maguire revolutionising the industry and bringing affordable gravimetric blending to processors

1990 - ICI launches Biopol, the first commercially available biodegradable plastic

1991 - Dyson’s vacuum cleaner launched in Japan

1994 - Smart car with lightweight flexible integrally coloured polycarbonate panels introduced

1998 - Free standing Zanussi Oz fridge, with insulation and outer skins made in one process from polyurethane foam introduced

2000 - 2010 - Nano Technology, Airbus A380, iPod

2000s Nano-Technology applied to  polymer and composit applications

2000 - First commercial metallocene catalysed polyolefins introduced.

2001 - iPod dreamed up by Tony Fadell, an independent inventor, developed by Apple Computers

2005 - NASA explores the advantages of a polyethylene based material RFX1, as the material for the spaceship that will send man to Mars

2005 - Polycond project established to look at the potential of conductive polymers

2008 - Airbus 380, comprising 22% carbon-fibre reinforced plastics flies into Heathrow

2009 - Boeing 787 (nicknames 'Boeing's Plastic Dream') comes into service, its skin is made up of 100% Plastic composites with plastic making up 50% of all materials in the plane.
2010 + - Plastics fit for the Future

Bullet Proof Polymer - Scientists at Rice University, Texas have created a new super polymer material that can stop a 9mm bullet and seal the hole behind it

Plastics Blood - Developed by the University of Sheffield to mimic haemoglobin, for use in trauma situations
where blood is needed quickly

Plastic Solar Cells - A polymer solar cell that can produce electricity from sunlight by the photovoltaic effect provides a lightweight, disposable and inexpensive alternative to traditional solar panels

Implantable Polymers - Medical grade and implantable biomaterials such as PEEK will be used in neurological applications to help control epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and brain trauma

Commercial - Space Flights Lightweight carbon composite materials will be crucial in the realisation of sub-orbital tourist spaceflights

3D Printed - Body Parts Using plastic materials such as PMMA car parts can be printed at home and doctors can produce replica livers or kidneys for transplant patients

Flexible Plastic Screens - Organic light-emitting diodes are placed on plastic foil to create electronic devices with flexible displays

Driverless Cars - In the future all driverless vehicles will be almost entirely constructed from plastic parts due to the light weighting properties they provide


The Story of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) - 100 Years in the Making
The Story of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) 

1913 - German Inventor Friedrich Klatte patented a polymerisation process to manufacture PVC

1926 - Waldo Semin, working for BF Goodrich in the US, invented plasticised PVC providing a synthetic replacement for increasingly costly natural rubber

1930 - RCA Victor launched the first commercially available vinyl long-playing record

1947 - The first vinyl floor covering was manufactured by the Swedish company Limhams

1950 - PVC blood bags replace glass bottles enabling blood to be safely transported

1966 - Development of vinyl wall coverings for better interior hygiene

1979 - First PVC-U double glazed windows installed in the UK

1995 - The UK's first solar powered office block, sponsored by the EU, DTI and Greenpeace, at Northumbria University, Newcastle on Tyne features 21,000 solar cells and 646 PVC-U windows to assist thermal efficiency throughout the building

2000 - European PVC Industry establishes Vinyl2010, a ten year commitment to in improve the environmental performance of PVC

2003 - A sustainable European PVC recycling system, Recovinyl, was established

2004 - First window manufactured from 100% post-consumer recycled PVC

2011 - VinylPlus, a new industry sustainability programme established

2012 - Over 142,000m2 of PVC fabric used in the construction of London 2012 Olympic venues

2013 - Recovinyl recycles more than one million PVC-U window frames per year in the UK

The future (2020) - Over 800,000 tonnes of PVC products will be recycled per year across Europe by 2020

The future (2022) - The 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar Showcase Stadium has been designed to use super reflective, triangulated PVC fabric to create a zero carbon, sustainable stadium providing comfortable playing conditions

Contributions by: PHS, Science Mu
seum Sylvia Katz, Colin Williamson, Colin Richardson, Susan Mossman, John Russel, Ralph Kay, Deborah Jaffe
Further Information: BPF, PHS, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Design Museum, Cornelius Collection of Toys, Bletchley Park, Bakelite Museum.
Copyright: BPF2014

If you would like to download our updated set of high resolution posters please CLICK HERE

A History of Plastics

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