Inducted 2005


Englishman Alexander Parkes is credited as being one of the founding fathers of the plastic materials. Her created the very first manmade plastic material, Parkesine, in 1862. He exhibited his new cellulose based material at the 1862 Great International Exposition in London, where he received a bronze medal for “Excellence of Product.” Parkes patented Parkesine in 1865 and exhibited the new material at the Royal Society of Arts in London.

Parkesine was a semi-synthetic thermoplastic material based on cellulose nitrate, which could be chemically modified to be hard or flexible, even soft and rubberlike, providing the foundation for the plastics industry that soon followed. An independent inventor working in Birmingham, England, Parkes described himself as a metallurgist and chemist, although there is no evidence that he had any formal training in either of these fields.

Parkes’s earlier work in natural rubber compounding was helpful in his later efforts to develop a plasticizer for cellulose nitrate. He used a variety of solvents as well as camphor. This early work provided the basic groundwork for John Wesley Hyatt’s perfection of Celluloid in 1869. Although Parkesine and its successors were never commercially successful, Parkes’ work provided the path for Hyatt to make his breakthrough with plasticized cellulose nitrate as a substitute for ivory billiard balls and other groundbreaking applications.

Areas of Expertise:

Plastic Materials

More Plastics Hall of Fame Members

View More