It all started around 1860 when the Englishman Alexander Parkers began his studies about cellulose nitrate, a kind of resin which was called “Parkesina”. The material was used in its solid state and had the main characteristics its flexibility, water resistant, opaque color and easy to be painted.
In 1862, during the London International Exposition, Parkers presented his first samples of what we could consider the predecessor of the plastic material, central point of a big family of polymers that nowadays contains hundreds of components. America typographer John Wesley Hyatt (1837-1920) heard of a contest in Albany, New York state, launched by the Phelanand Collander Company, which produced billiard balls. Since ivory was already rare, whoever developed a material able to replace ivory in billiard balls manufacturing would be awarded ten thousand dollars as a prize. Hyatt started researching artificial ivory or any other new material that could that could fulfill the expectations of the company.
Hyatt was successful in 1870 by improving the celluloid – a commercial version of the cellulose nitrate with addition of pyroxylin, camphor, alcohol, paper, and sawdust pulp.Thus, the first artificial plastic material was born. In the same year, the first factory of this new material was set up, called Albany Dental Plate Company, name derived from the fact that celluloid was firstly used by dentists.
Two years later (1872), the Dental plate Company changed its name to Celluloid Manufacturing Company, this was the first time that the name celluloid was registered. Because it is easy to work with celluloid was a success and ended up naming the plastic materials that were created from celluloid.
Along 1920, Hermann Staudinger began his theoretical studies of the structure and properties of the natural polymers (cellulose and isoprene) and synthetics. Staudinger showed that polymers are built by molecules formed in long chains starting from smaller molecules by means of polymerization. Before, it was believed that plastic was formed by joint molecules rings. However, the Staudinger theory was not accepted by all scientists and the discussion continued throughout the twenties.
The thirties saw the advent polystyrene which has as its basic raw materials ethane and benzene. Its commercial production started only in Germany, in 1936.
During the year of 1949, the first polystyrene factory was set up, the Bakol S.A., in São Paulo. Soon, the commercial production of high impact polystyrene started.
In the beginning of the sixties, F. H. Lambert developed the process to mold expanded polystyrene. Then the plastic replace, with advantage, raw materials which had been used for thousands of years by men, such as glass, wood, cotton, cellulose and metals. Besides, replacing raw materials derived from animals such as leather, wool and ivory enable consumer goods to reach the low income population.
After the discovery of polystyrene, polyethylene, PVC, polyamides (nylon) and polyester the knowledge of polymerization mechanisms contributed, during the last years, to the advent of other plastic materials with physics-mechanical characteristics and high heat resistance, called technical polymer or polymer for engineering.
From 1945, the plastic material entered, with strength, into households, regardless of their social class. It was a phenomenon because until then the steel was the dominant material.
The gradual substitution of the traditional materials with the synthetic ones changed the concepts of shape, ergonomics and utility of the objects as men was used to handle in their day to day life.
With the introduction of the plastic in the world market, new demands rose, such as disposable products, leisure goods, electro electronics among others. In the home appliance sector, for instance, the use of the plastic is in constant growth and evolution.
Nowadays, plastic is considered essential for the development of humanity. The improvement of the transformation technology travels at the same intensity as the history of the polymers.