How One Curious Accident Led To The Discovery Of Polythene

Polythene products can be found almost anywhere. In fact, it is hard to imagine a world without many of the products made from this unique material which include plastic carrier bags, food packaging, insulation for electronic cables and even artificial hips. Perhaps one of the most interesting facts about polythene is that its discovery was accidental, yet this accident has had an extraordinary impact in many industries.

The moment of change happened in 1933 when the two scientists, Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson, proceeded to experiment with two gases and high pressure. The result somewhat exceeded their expectations as, much to their surprise, they were left with a white, sticky residue in the bottom of the test tube. Unlike other experiments where perhaps the results were not deemed of importance, the next five years saw further investigations into how the substance could be produced industrially. This is how polyethylene, more commonly known as polythene, was discovered as we know it today.

The unearthing of this flexible plastic, has in recent years, altered our way of living. One of its most incredible feats was helping Britain in World War II – sadly, a largely forgotten fact. Due to its lightweight and insulating properties, polythene effectively insulated radar cables in British aircraft which meant overseas forces found it hard to locate Britain’s planes. In turn, Britain won the advantage in long-distance air warfare.

Following polythene’s heroic wartime accomplishments, its usage spread to commercial products which boomed during the 1950s. The founding of high density polyethylene (HDPE) in 1951, originally trademarked as Marlex, was used to reinvent the popular children’s play hoop which was relaunched in 1957 by Wham-O and named the ‘hula hoop’. However, most notably the increase of supermarkets led to the invention of the carrier bag which until recently took pride of place during the weekly grocery shop. Indeed, the food industry has benefited enormously from polythene’s invention in general. Not only can foodstuffs be kept sealed and fresher for longer, the shrink-wrapping of items like takeaway sandwiches and prepared fruit, has allowed new markets for expansion.

It is certainly hard to figure how one, small laboratory mishap has helped shape the modern world. Despite some criticism regarding its disposal, the production of polythene is in fact efficient and uses comparatively little energy to some of its counterparts. From a small, white residue to something which is used in the food, healthcare, and electrical industries, to name but a few, polythene is present in most aspects of daily life not only at home but in the workplace too. For all the industrial polythene requirements your business needs, Hanmere is at the cutting edge of manufacturing innovative food grade polythene materials for the 21st century. Call us on 01462 482 222 for more information or click here to visit our website and enquire online.


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