Parkesine: Plastic’s Ancestor

While there are plenty of plastics companies in the marketplace today that are on the cutting edge of synthetic polymer research, the origin of plastics can be traced back to one man: Alexander Parkes. In 1862, Parkes introduced his innovative material, called Parkesine, at the Great International Exhibition of London. Parkesine was an organic-derived compound made from cellulose that had been treated with solvents and nitric acid, a far simpler substance than we see in the display cases, packaging, and other plastic products of today.

Although the Parkesine Company was created in 1866, the production of this material was short-lived. Thanks to attempts by Parkes to cut manufacturing costs, the product that was produced was of poor quality. The company stopped trading as of 1868, a short two years after it was founded. Despite its short life in the marketplace, it’s still an important part of the history of plastic.

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