Alexander Parkes & that plastic thing…

It was Alexander Parkes who invented plastic in 1855; little did he know that it would turn into a curse polluting every thing it touched. 150 years later we are still trying to get rid of it. Tons enter the world’s oceans annually and endanger marine life.

He was the son of a brass lock manufacturer. He first worked on electroplating, and took out his first patent in 1841 on a process for electroplating delicate works of art. Eventually he held at least 66 patents on processes and products mostly related to electroplating and plastic development.

In 1855, he developed the first thermoplastic – a celluloid based on nitrocellulose treated with a variety of solvents. He first exhibited at an 1862 London International Exhibition. That anticipated many of the modern aesthetic and utility uses of plastics.

In 1866 he set up a company in London for bulk low-cost production. It failed, as plastic was expensive to produce, prone to cracking and highly flammable. The business closed in 1868.


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