A Quick History of Plastic in Manufacturing

A Quick History of Plastic in Manufacturing

Today, plastics are in just about everything you touch. At AFP, we use plastics for custom fabricating products that dampen sounds, insulate electrical components, protect surfaces and more.

The advent of manufactured plastics is relatively new, however. Here’s a brief look at how plastic has been used across time.


Before the Industrial Revolution, even as far back as the 1600s BC, cultures like the Mesoamericans would use natural flexible materials, such as rubber, to create figurines, bands, and balls.

Proteins from egg and blood were also used to create plastic-like materials that could be used where metals, stone, and plant material could not. In the middle ages, Europeans used the plastic-like cow horns for translucent window material after being treated.

Man-Made Plastics

The first man-made plastic, Parkesine, was created by Alexander Parkes in 1862 by dissolving cellulose nitrate in alcohol with camphor. This led the way for early plastic material to be used in buttons, combs, and more.

Later, plastic was developed for electrical wire insulation, film for photography and motion pictures, records, and telephones. With each decade came new classifications of plastics by using different chemicals.

Plastics in War and Beyond

As conflict often leads to innovation, World War 1 and World War 2 produced new types of plastic materials. Polyester, polythene, nylon and neoprene were used in items like parachutes, turrets, and planes.

In the post-war plastic manufacturing boom, plastics were used in everything from shopping bags to storage containers to appliances. As time went on, plastic found its way into nearly every product, including the first plastic bank notes in 1988 in Australia.

This decade, global plastic sales reached almost $1 trillion per year, mostly coming from within the US, Japan and Germany. The plastic industry in the U.S. employs about 1.4 million workers.

How We Use Plastic

At AFP, we custom fabricate plastics for clients all across the nation. We can process plastics to be used in numerous markets, including:

  • Industrial equipment
  • Consumer products
  • Transportation
  • Construction

Do you need custom manufactured plastics? Contact us today to get started on your project or to learn more about plastics.

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