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The history of synthetic plastics goes back over 100 years to the use of cellulose nitrate (celluloid) for billiard balls, men's collars, and shirt cuffs. Before plastics were commercialized, most household goods and industrial products were made of metals, wood, glass, paper, leather, and vulcanized (sulfurized) natural rubber.

The first truly synthetic polymer was Bakelite, a densely cross-linked material based on the reaction of phenol and formaldehyde. It has been used for many applications, including electrical appliances and phonograph records. Among the first plastics developed that could be reformed under heat (thermoplastics) were polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and nylon 66.

The first polymers used by man were actually natural products such as cotton, starch, proteins, or wool. Certain proteins that are in fact natural polymers once had commercial importance as industrial plastics, but they have played a diminishing role in the field of plastics production in recent years.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Planck mass to PositPlastics - History, Chemistry, Polymerization, Manufacture And Processing, Thermoplastics, Crystalline And Noncrystalline Thermoplastics, Thermosets - Molecular weight