In our first part of The History of Plastics, we shared the development of the first man made polymers as well as the introduction of some modern-day plastics and how they grew in popularity. However, the incredible success of plastic can be directly attributed to World War II when there was an incredible need for easy-to-produce, durable supplies, and how the developments made during wartime led to plastics we still use today. Our plastics manufacturing company in North Carolina is looking back again to share the history of plastics from 1935 through 1980.
How the World Used Plastics Before World War II
Until the early 1930s, the only plastics that were in wide use were Bakelite and celluloid. However the invention of Bakelite and it’s 100 percent synthetic components opened the doors for the creation of new polymers, including polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene, and nylon.
These synthetics allowed women to give up heavy wool or expensive silk stockings and buy nylon stockings instead. Movie sets relied on white laminate sets to create beautiful, luminous backdrops that would show off the actors in black-and-white films. Vehicles were more accessible as plastics could be used in their production. Needless to say, plastics were becoming the norm both in home and commercial use, but it wasn’t until 1939 and the breakout of World War II that plastic production took off.
Use of Plastics During War Time
When the world went to war in 1939, almost all production around the world turned to making materials, and there was a need for durable, inexpensive, lightweight materials that could be manufactured fast.
Women gave up their newly discovered nylon stockings so they could be used to make rope and parachutes. Newly created expanded polystyrene was used for thermal insulation and shock absorption in vehicles, and PVC was used to make everything from canvas for tents and water-repellent coatings for uniforms to hand grenades and tank components. Plane cockpits, synthetic rubber tires, goggles, helmet liners, and even components making the atomic bomb all came from plastics.
The United States invested heavily in plastics, giving out over a billion dollars to private companies. In addition to more plastic manufacturing companies, more refineries were built to turn crude oil into plastic across the country. However, as the war ended, what was a nation going to do with all the plastic, much less all the refineries and manufacturing locations?
Post-War Plastic Explosion
Following World War II, plastics was at a crossroad. There was a glut of materials used to make plastics, new manufacturing plants, and a booming economy so consumers had more money to spend. However, were they going to spend it on plastic? While most households had some plastics or nylons, they weren’t relied upon and there wasn’t much demand for it.
In order to win over consumers, plastics manufacturers went on a public relations tear, working with womens’ magazines like Good Housekeeping and House Beautiful to do stories and dedicate issues to plastic home goods. For example, Saran Wrap created promotions featuring moms wrapping beef in plastic to freeze while daughters twisted homemade candy in decorative bundles. In 1948, Tupperware hit the market and became one of the leading symbols of quaint, suburban domesticity.
Needless to say, all the marketing in the late 1940s worked. Plastic goods became sought-after for home decorations and furnishings such as formica tables and vinyl covered chairs, televisions with plastic casings, and wall art. The industry experienced over 15 percent growth between 1946 and 1960 and by 1960, plastic had surpassed aluminum in production.
Plastic Becomes a Part of Daily Life
Through the 1960s and into the 1970s, plastics become more and more a part of everyday life. Thanks to injection molding and thermoforming, these goods could be produced quickly and affordably, making items that used to be a luxury more accessible to people around the world and from all walks of life.
During this time, single use plastics were emerging and growing in popularity. Shampoo bottles and soda bottles switched from heavy glass to lightweight plastic, and paper bags were replaced with plastic options and food packaging was made from polystyrene foam. Lighter, less expensive, and much more convenient, these single use plastics became incredibly popular with consumers. By 1976, plastic surpassed all other materials to become the most used in the world.
Contact Us for Injection Molding and Thermoforming
At Advanced Plastiform, we continue to build on innovations and developments in the plastic industry to better serve our customers. We use a wide variety of thermoplastics to create durable, long-lasting custom plastics with a fast lead time and low per-unit prices.
If you need accurate, high-quality custom plastics created through injection molding or thermoforming, we can help. We work with all types of industries in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, including North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia. To learn more, reach out to our team today.