History of Plastics:
The first human-made plastic was invented by Alexander Parkes in 1855 ; he called this plastic Parkesine (later called celluloid). It was unveiled at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. The development of plastics has come from the use of natural plastic materials (e.g., chewing gum, shellac) to the use of chemically modified natural materials (e.g., rubber, nitrocellulose, collagen, galalite) and finally to completely synthetic molecules (e.g., bakelite, epoxy, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene).
In 1855, an Englishman from Birmingham named Alexander Parkes developed a synthetic replacement for ivory which he marketed under the trade name Parkesine, and which won a bronze medal at the 1862 World's fair in London. Parkesine was made from cellulose (the major component of plant cell walls) treated with nitric acid and a solvent. The output of the process (commonly known as cellulose nitrate or pyroxilin) could be dissolved in alcohol and hardened into a transparent and elastic material that could be molded when heated. By incorporating pigments into the product, it could be made to resemble ivory.
Bois Durci is a plastic moulding material based on cellulose. It was patented in Paris by Lepage in 1855. It is made from finely ground wood flour mixed with a binder, either egg or blood albumen, or gelatine. The wood is probably either ebony or rose wood, which gives a black or brown resin. The mixture is dried and ground into a fine powder. The powder is placed in a steel mould and compressed in a powerful hydraulic press whilst being heated by steam. The final product has a highly polished finish imparted by the surface of the steel mould.
Main article: Bakelite
The first plastic based on a synthetic polymer was made from phenol and formaldehyde, with the first viable and cheap synthesis methods invented in 1909 by Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a Belgian-born American living in New York state. Baekeland was searching for an insulating shellac to coat wires in electric motors and generators. He found that mixtures of phenol (C6H5OH) and formaldehyde (HCOH) formed a sticky mass when mixed together and heated, and the mass became extremely hard if allowed to cool. He continued his investigations and found that the material could be mixed with wood flour, asbestos, or slate dust to create "composite" materials with different properties. Most of these compositions were strong and fire resistant. The only problem was that the material tended to foam during synthesis, and the resulting product was of unacceptable quality.
Baekeland built pressure vessels to force out the bubbles and provide a smooth, uniform product. He publicly announced his discovery in 1912, naming it bakelite. It was originally used for electrical and mechanical parts, finally coming into widespread use in consumer goods in the 1920s. When the Bakelite patent expired in 1930, the Catalin Corporation acquired the patent and began manufacturing Catalin plastic using a different process that allowed a wider range of coloring.
Bakelite was the first true plastic. It was a purely synthetic material, not based on any material or even molecule found in nature. It was also the first thermosetting plastic. Conventional thermoplastics can be molded and then melted again, but thermoset plastics form bonds between polymers strands when cured, creating a tangled matrix that cannot be undone without destroying the plastic. Thermoset plastics are tough and temperature resistant.
Bakelite was cheap, strong, and durable. It was molded into thousands of forms, such as cases for radios, telephones and clocks, and billiard balls. The U.S. government even considered making one-cent coins out of it when World War II caused a copper shortage.
Phenol-based ("Phenolic") plastics have been largely replaced by cheaper and less brittle plastics, but they are still used in applications requiring their insulating and heat-resistant properties. For example, some electronic circuit boards are made of sheets of paper or cloth impregnated with phenolic resin.
Phenolic sheets, rods and tubes are produced in a wide variety of grades under various brand names. The most common grades of industrial phenolic are Canvas, Linen and Paper.
(I have more on the industrial use.) This is very informative! Thank you wikipedia! :O)
So, celluloid was used for jewelry in the early 1900's, but it is more flammable! Plastic progressed to bakelite, used for household items in the 1920's, then to catalin in 1930, when the company was sold.
(I'll add jewelry photos soon!)