How Did Plastic Revolutionize Modern Life?

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Since first being produced in 1909, plastic (any synthetic organic material that can be molded under heat and pressure to retain a shape) has had an impact on industries and consumers throughout the world. True to its name—plastic is defined as "capable of being molded or modeled"—the substance can be adapted to countless uses, both for the production of goods and as a material in finished goods. In 1909 Bakelite plastic was introduced and over the next three decades the plastics industry grew. Acrylic, nylon, polystyrene, and vinyl (polyvinyl chloride or PVC) were developed in the 1930s, and polyesters were produced in the 1940s. By the end of the twentieth century plastic was being used in nearly all manufactured products: from household items such as hosiery, clocks, radios, toys, flooring, food containers, bags, electric plugs, and garden hoses, to commercial uses such as automobile bodies and parts, airplane windows, boat hulls, packaging, and building materials. The space industry and medicine have also found critical uses for plastic. Scientists continued to find new applications for plastics—in products such as compact disks (CDs), computer diskettes, outdoor furniture, and personal computers (PCs). The material has become essential to modern life.

Further Information: National Plastics Center and Museum. [Online] Available, October 30, 2000; The Plastics Group of America. Polymers Dot Com. [Online] Available, October 30, 2000.