From Accidental Discovery to Worldwide Acceptance
The world’s most versatile plastic had a rather humble beginning: A rubber scientist during the early 1920s stumbled onto a new material with fantastic properties during his search for a synthetic adhesive. Waldo Semon was intrigued with his finding, and experimented by making golf balls and shoe heels out of the versatile material called polyvinyl chloride, or PVC.
Soon after his discovery, PVC-based products such as insulated wire, raincoats and shower curtains hit the market. As more uses for vinyl were discovered, industry developed more ways to produce and process the new plastic.
Plants manufacturing PVC began to spring up during the ’30s to meet demand for the versatile material. Just a decade after its conception, PVC – commonly known as vinyl – was sought for a variety of industrial applications including gaskets and tubing.
Joining industries across the nation during the ’40s, PVC manufacturers turned their attention to assisting the war effort. Vinyl-coated wire was widely used aboard U.S. military ships, replacing wire insulated with rubber. Vinyl manufacturers were working in high gear as World War II wound down, and they quickly found new markets for the durable plastic. Following the war, news of vinyl’s versatility and flame-resistant properties spread, leading to dozens of commercial uses.
Five companies were making PVC at the century’s midpoint, and innovative uses for vinyl continued to be found during the ’50s and ’60s. A vinyl-based latex was used on boots, fabric coatings and inflatable structures, and methods for enhancing vinyl’s durability were refined, opening the door to applications in the building trades.
Vinyl products quickly became a staple of the construction industry; the plastic’s resistance to corrosion, light and chemicals made it ideal for building applications. PVC piping was soon transporting water to thousands of homes and industries, aided by improvements in the material’s resistance to extreme temperatures. Twenty companies were producing vinyl by 1980.
Today, vinyl is the second largest-selling plastic in the world, and the industry employs more than 100,000 people in the United States alone. Vinyl’s low cost, versatility and performance make it the material of choice for dozens of industries such as health care, communications, aerospace, automotive, retailing, textiles and construction. Rigid as pipe or pliable as plastic wrap, vinyl is a leading material of the 21st century.
This content supported by The Vinyl Institute. More information, please follow www.vinylinfo.org