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A Short Plastic History

As you can imagine, we consider ourselves pretty big fans of plastic here at Excelsior, and off the top of our heads we could list you a whole heap of advantages in producing plastic products through our roto-moulding process. With our last blog post having given you a bit of a short history about ourselves, we thought it was worth giving you an overview about the history of plastic itself, and how it revolutionised the world of manufacturing. To do that, we first have to go all the way back to the 18th century, in the forests of the Amazon basin…

 Introducing The World To Plastic

You may have guessed, when humans first discovered plastic it was in a rather more raw form than the materials we at Excelsior currently use for our roto moulding processes. In the early 18th century, the French explorer Charles-Marie de la Condamine became the first European to discover the rubber tree in the Amazon basin. From there, it was quick to take off – in the 1840s, patents were taken out on both sides of the Atlantic for vulcanised rubber. Victorians were quick to recognise the advantages of this natural material. It was malleable, enabling it to be made into different shapes, but could also easily be hardened into a final manufactured form. It was rather more versatile than other natural materials like wood, stone and glass, and gave manufacturers the ability to make a whole host of consumer goods available significantly more cheaply, giving the masses easy access to products many had never had the income to own (for example, the humble hair comb!).

In 1862, a British inventor named Alexander Parkes unveiled the first man-made plastic, an organic form of cellulose. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t a born businessman, which freed the opportunity for two Americans – the Hyatt brothers – to make a mint from their version of the material. They renamed it ‘celluloid’, meaning ‘like cellulose’ (they were perhaps not the most imaginative pair).

Plastic Redefined 20th Century Manufacturing

In the early 20th century plastic still had a bit of a way to go to properly hit the mainstream, and it was mostly used in decorative and utilitarian items. But then in 1907, Leo Baekeland developed a synthetic plastic from fossil fuels. This opened the floodgates, and in further decades we got polystyrene, polyester, polyvinylchloride (PVC), polythene and nylon, all well before 1960. In the midst of all this, in 1933, the British Plastics Federation was founded, and it remains an important industry authority to this day.

By the 1940s, plastics started playing an ever greater part in the war effort, and soon we had both the plastics and the machines to mass produce more and more commercial and personal products. In the 1950s, roto moulding finally hit the mainstream. The process had technically been around since 1855, first used to create metal artillery shells. It was retooled (so to speak) for the plastics industry, and its success soon became apparent. In the 1970s, a certain small family-owned company looking to diversify invested in an array of roto-moulding equipment, and the rest, as they say, is history.

By now, we’ve had several decades to perfect our processes, and rotomoulding is still proving itself as valuable as ever in producing a wide variety of useful plastic products for our customers. In fact, if you’ve got an idea for a plastic product, we’d love to help you make it a reality! You can click here to find out more about our contract moulding service, or give us a quick call on 0161 765 2010.

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