News-Antique.com - Feb 01,2008 - Celluloid had arrived and proved that plastic was a marketable material. From 1868 to the 1900’s, there was no other major development in this field. The next milestone came when Dr. Leo Hendrick Bakeland from Yonkers, New York discovered phenolic plastics in 1909. He named his new invention “bakelite.” Since celluloid was highly flammable, it did not take long for bakelite to totally dominate the marketplace. It is still highly
collectible in all forms from jewelry to everyday utensils.
Soon after the development of bakelite, cold molded plastics appeared. During the next three decades, from about 1910 to1942, plastics technology grew enormously. In 1942 there were 17 different types of plastic but only a few of them proved to be of significance to the Housewares field. The few plastics housewares on the market prior to the 1930s were compression molded with thermo-setting materials. In the middle to late thirties, some products were being injection molded of cellulose acetate. The qualities of
this product were it’s superior impact strength and wide color range from opaque and translucent to colorless or clear.
In 1938 the introduction of polystyrene opened up the housewares market. This material had all of the advantages of the cellulose acetate plus greater dimensional stability, greater clarity, a faster molding time and it was cheap. This was when plastic housewares
really started to sell in volume. It was also around this time that a material known as melamine got a second life. Melamine had been hanging around since 1834 but nobody gave it a second thought. In the mid 1930s, the American Cynabid Company in Wallingford, Connecticut developed a formula which was believed to hold considerable potential for molding plates and bowls. They contracted with the Hemco division of the Bryant Electric Company which was a subsidiary of the Westinghouse Electric Company to start production. The new line was called “Beetleware.”
In 1942 one of the most useful plastics, polyethylene, was introduced. It was soft, flexible and extremely durable. One of the first molders to specialize in this material was Earl S. Tupperware, founder of Tupper Plastics Incorporated in Farnum, Massachusetts. In 1948
an extremely tough and versatile thermoplastic, acryonitrile, was introduced. It provided greater impact strength and better heat resistance. It was used to produce all kinds of heavy duty drinking cups and glasses. Next came one of the lightest weight plastics,
polypropylene. It had all of the virtues of polyethylene, plus it could be folded, flexed and bent without breaking.
Plastics truly revolutionized the Housewares industry as well as many other industries. Scoffers said it would never replace china, glass, and metal. They laughed at the absurdity of any homemaker wanting Melmac on their dining or kitchen table. However, plastic was the little material that could and it had the last laugh. Today, it’s indispensable in every home. As far as the collectible’s market, let’s just say that I was a fool for getting rid of my Texasware bowls and original Tupperware. If you’d like to know