Melamine - Rebel with a Cause at Mama’s Treasures Melamine was discovered in Europe in 1834. It was an oddity that seemed to have no
useful purpose. So for the next 100 years, no one gave it a second thought.
News-Antique.com - Mar 31,2008 - Melamine was discovered in Europe in 1834. It was an oddity that seemed to have no useful purpose. So for the next 100 years, no one gave it a second thought. In the mid 1930s, the American Cyanamid company in Wallingford, Connecticut developed a resin that it was thought held great potential for molding bowls and plates. They contracted with the Hemco division of the Bryant Electric Co., a subsidiary of Westinghouse, to start
production. The new line was called Beetleware and it was marketed primarily for picnic and outdoor use. Unfortunately, it didn’t hold up very well and was discontinued.
In the meantime, the idea had been planted and researchers at American Cyanamid rediscovered melamine. It was unique in its resistance to breakage, had a hard scratch resistant surface, absorbed little water and was odorless and tasteless. Production began
and it was given a name, Melmac.
In the late 1930s, the United States Army and Navy issued a call for a dinnerware that could withstand rough handling. Two molders, Hemco and Boonton answered the call
and Melmac was on its way. Much of the tooling for dies was financed by the government. After the war the molds were released for civilian use and both Hemco and
Boonton began producing plastic dinnerware. At first it was mainly used in restaurants and institutions. It had a hard time finding its place in the mass market. China Department buyers considered it an upstart and said it had no place in the china and glass section of the modern department store. So the molders turned to the housewares department who welcomed it with open arms.
It continued to be a well kept secret until Supermarkets began to hit their stride. Big promotions were held to popularize the dinnerware. One of the most notable is the A&P promotion of Westinghouse Hemcoware. In the mid 1950s, decals or inlays made decorated dinnerware possible and the popularity grew. It reached it’s height of popularity in the late 50s and early 1960s. It was perfect for the budget minded consumer.
By the late 1960s Melmac began to encounter stiff competition from companies promoting Ironstone as the new dinnerware. The Ironstone sets were competitive in price and began taking much of the business away. In 1971 the Corning Glass Works began to produce a dinnerware line called Living Ware. It had many of the qualities of china and was also highly break resistant. It was also marketed in the houseware departments where
melmac had held a solitary reign. The popularity of “Melmac” declined as the popularity of Corelle grew. It never really disappeared from the marketplace, but it was so overshadowed by the marketing strategy of Corning, that most of us forgot about it. If you’d like to know more about the history of plastics, I recommend “The Housewares Story,” Earl Lifshey, 1973, National Housewares Manufacturers Association.
It’s been 40 years since I proudly opened my Melmac dinnerware as a young bride. The first mixing bowl I bought