In the grand scheme of things, industrial thermoform is a relatively new industry. While the development of modern plastics stretches mostly back to the early 20th century, scientists have been working on creating plastic substances since the early half of the 19th century and natural rubber has been used for centuries.
Two of the first key figures in the development of plastics were Thomas Hancock and Charles Goodyear. The latter name probably is quite familiar to you as the name for the tire company. Goodyear is credited with inventing the process known as vulcanization, which involves combining rubber with other substances in order to make it stronger. Prior to the invention of vulcanization, rubber tended to have trouble if temperatures were too high or too low.
Despite Goodyear’s fame, Thomas Hancock actually was the first person to file a patent for vulcanization, and he also named the process itself in honor of the Roman god of fire. Among plastics and chemistry historians, it is debated as to which of the two men actually invented the process, and some believe that Hancock was influenced and inspired by Goodyear’s many experiments with vulcanization. Hancock was able to take Goodyear’s findings and invented a machine that could process the rubber quickly and thus, an industry was born.
Many people confuse industrial thermoform and thermoplastics with thermoset plastics. Thermoset plastics are plastics that can never be re-melted and recycled, they are permanently set. They are useful today for making strong, heat-resistant parts for items such as vehicle parts, medical equipment and computers. Bakelite, a thermoset plastic, was one of the first plastics that was widely used to make many products. You can still find jewelry, toys and radios made from Bakelite and these are collector’s items today. Bakelite was invented by Leo Baekeland way back in 1907 and is often called the world’s first thermoset plastic.
When it comes to industrial thermoform plastics, there are many different kinds and early, unstable versions of these plastics were being created as far back as the 1840s. Take polyvinyl chloride, for instance, which is better known simply as PVC. During experiments in 1835 and also in 1872, a French chemist and a German chemist accidently created PVC but weren’t able to stabilize PVC enough to make it truly useful. Polyethylene, another commonly used industrial thermoform plastic, also was discovered in 1898, but was not developed for common use until the 1930s.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that things really begin to take off. In many ways, Waldo Simon could be considered a father of modern industrial thermoform plastics. This honored chemist was the one who finally stabilized PVC, which is now used for pipes, insulation for cables and hundreds of other products. Simon also invented vinyl and a synthetic version of rubber. He was inducted into the Invention Hall of Fame and held 116 patents.
These are just a few of the many interesting moments in the history of plastics. At Indepak, we are committed to producing quality industrial thermoform plastic products for our customers. Call us today and we can begin developing a thermoform package or other thermoplastic item that fits your needs.