The first plastic material was patented by Alexander Parkes of Birmingham in 1856. Known as Parkesine, it was unveiled at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. The next breakthrough came in 1907, with the invention of Bakelite by the Belgian-born American Leo Baekeland. It was derived from fossil fuels instead of plants and animals.
Advances in the use of plastics had been slow throughout the century but by the 1950s, the flexible plastic package had fully arrived. To the designer, the moulded pack gave endless opportunities for shape. To the consumer, the squeezable plastic bottle was a revolution. It could be used for a wide range of products from talcum powders through to the newly arrived washing up liquids.
During the 1960s and 1970s, many products that had been packed for decades in glass bottles now switched to plastic containers. Plastic was lighter, saving on transport costs and making shopping less heavy. Also, plastic bottles did not break.


  • Title: Plastics
  • Type: Muti-purpose chemically engingeered material
  • Rights: Robert Opie Collection

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