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Plastics Products Manufacturing Workers

History

Materials that soften with heat and harden when cooled are called thermoplastics, or plastics. Their first commercial use in the United States dates to 1865 when brothers John Wesley Hyatt and Isaiah Hyatt produced a hard material made of cellulose nitrate and camphor, which they named celluloid. Developed initially to replace ivory used to make billiard balls, the material proved to have many other uses and sparked a manufacturing revolution. The Hyatts patented their invention in 1870. Following a legal challenge from English inventor Alexander Parkes, who had documented how to produce a similar substance in 1856, the courts ruled the patent invalid, making celluloid available for use by anyone. Though others made refinements and changes to the substance more than 2,500 celluloid products, including piano keys, false teeth, and film, were on the market by 1892.

The industry took a leap forward when Belgian-American chemist Leo H. Baekeland produced the first synthetic plastic, Bakelite, which he introduced in 1909. The result launched the modern plastics industry. Bakelite could be heated then extruded or molded, and it held its shape once it cooled. Manufacturers used it to produce radios, telephones, housewares, toys, and other items. Since then researchers and engineers have continued to improve existing plastics and develop new varieties of plastics. World War II fueled many innovations in this field to meet demands for clothing, consumer goods, transportation, and military equipment.

Today, plastics manufacturing plays a vital role in many other industries and activities around the world. Plastics are used in all aspects of life, from clothing, electronic devices, and cars to toys, airplanes, and building supplies. The plastics industry directly produces consumer goods and supports other industries by producing components or raw plastics used to make other products.

Plastics products manufacturing workers have always been needed in the production of plastic. Their job responsibilities and skills have changed and grown more specialized as new production processes and materials have come into widespread use.

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