The History and Future of Plastics (4)-Plastics Come of Age

World War II necessitated a great expansion of the plastics industry in the United States, as industrial might proved as important to victory as military success. The need to preserve scarce natural resources made the production of synthetic alternatives a priority. Plastics provided those substitutes. Nylon, invented by Wallace Carothers in 1935 as a synthetic silk, was used during the war for parachutes, ropes, body armor, helmet liners, and more. Plexiglas provided an alternative to glass for aircraft windows. A Time magazine article noted that because of the war, “plastics have been turned to new uses and the adaptability of plastics demonstrated all over again.”[1] During World War II plastic production in the United States increased by 300%.

The surge in plastic production continued after the war ended. After experiencing the Great Depression and then World War II, Americans were ready to spend again, and much of what they bought was made of plastic. According to author Susan Freinkel, “In product after product, market after market, plastics challenged traditional materials and won, taking the place of steel in cars, paper and glass in packaging, and wood in furniture.”[2] The possibilities of plastics gave some observers an almost utopian vision of a future with abundant material wealth thanks to an inexpensive, safe, sanitary substance that could be shaped by humans to their every whim.

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  2. The History and Future of Plastics (3)-The Development of New Plastics
  3. The History and Future of Plastics (2)-The First Synthetic Plastic
  4. The Use Of 3D Printing In Manufacturing Now & In The Future
  5. How Plastics Are Made(1)-The Basics of Plastic Manufacturing