Retrotechtacular: The 10-year Anniversary Of Plastic


This footage called Industry on Parade is a unique look back at the golden age of plastics. We also value the footage as a look at America’s manufacturing sector at its height.

We remember a middle-school teacher recalling his father — who was a research scientist working at Dow — bringing home a pair of discs for him to play with. His first ever encounter with plastic. Here we see a snapshot ten years after plastic manufacturing went mainstream. It starts off with a tour of an injection-molding factory. The screenshot seen above is from the second vignette which tours a production line for naval ship models which will be used to train Navy personnel and as props for strategic planning maps. The film wraps up with the production of plastic fabrics starting with raw materials and ending with synthetic bug screen.

Just to prove it’s an authentic blast from the past, hang in there for the last two minutes when you get an anti-communism PSA. Classic.

36 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: The 10-year Anniversary Of Plastic

  1. I love these! I’ve never see plastic put on such a pedestal before! I can’t help but wonder what horrific colours all those bowls, plates and cutlery were!

    Also, that PSA at the end is kinda funny, in a melancholic sort of way.

    1. Not having been born in the 1960s, I had to ask a friend, “Were things in the 60s really that colour?”. Repeats of Bewitched, and other early TV programmes had me wondering, were those garish, bright colours artefacts of early TV processes, or just over-enthusiasm by manufacturers with the invention of synthetic dyes?

      Apparently, it’s the second one.

      Even when men wore grey suits back then, they were SUPER-grey!

    1. “But we can curb inflation If each of us would avoid borrowing to buy unnecessary things, saving all we can, not wasting materials, and by supporting policies that increase our industrial productivity, and insisting our government does likewise.” … lol oh cold war propaganda

      1. Err… Cold War? This is 1940, the actual “Hot” war is just about to start, Mr. Ford has just built two car factories in Soviet Russia and Mr. Armand Hammer is still happily doing business there. Stalin is just about to become a close ally. Completely different era.

        1. The film dates from the 1940’s, but not 1940, so Cold War is correct. In the section about the Comet Authenticast ID models a Grumman F9F Pather can be seen, whic undertook its first flight in November 1947. It’d be a further couple years before it entered service and an ID model would be needed, so I’d date the film to 1948 or 1949.

      1. Yea, they made everything out of bakelite in the 30’s (well if it wasn’t made of wood, or metal) even jewellery, but isn’t bakelite “different” than plastic, not sure how but I was under the impression it was sort of a brittle cousin.

        1. Bakelite was one of the first synthetics, it’s been replaced by ABS plastic these days. It’s still classed as a plastic. It’s a thermosetting plastic, so by default it’s hard, and that usually means brittle as well, especially if it’s thin.

          You can still get Bakelite stuff, I got some dice recently that are Bakelite. Has a different feel and a nice ‘click’ when you shake them.

          The lighter colours seem to get very brittle when they age, I don’t know why. UV damage maybe?

          A lot of it, especially jewellery, is highly collectable these days. You could get clear Bakelite too, but it’s all gone yellow these days. If it’s clear it’s probably Lucite.

        2. Funny you say this, I was just looking at a datasheet for some cheapo chinese LED and the casing is made from Bakelite. I guess it’s got great thermal/electrical insulating properties.

          1. It’s odd see Bakelite show up in new electronics, I’ve no idea what the reason is. Must be some little niche it fills nicely (cheap, strong, heat resistant etc).

            Probably heat; ABS is only good to about 100C, acrylic about 140C, polycarbonate 150C (?). None of those are thermosetting, so thinking about it Bakelite might win on heat, strength, price, manufacture (resin casting). Must be it’s 100th birthday soon, where shall we have the party?

          2. Would be interesting to see a range of modern day components and material uses for Bakelite on it’s 100th birthday. Something like a centenarian tribute.

        3. Bakelite was used a LOT for terminal strips, tube bases, switches, knobs and lamp housings etc… In fact, if I’m not mistaken, I think a lot of the “black” terminal strips are still made of the stuff, or we’re STILL buying old stock.
          I hated working with the stuff, because it broke pretty easy. The little divider on the terminal strips would always, ALWAYS snap off. And it seems, if it got warm (like a tube base) it would always break later too, like the heat really messed it up. And it smelled terrible when it burned.
          The heavier stuff, like radio cases, tended to last a long time.

    1. I see your reference to 1967’s ‘The Graduate’, and trump you by an offering 9 years earlier: Jacques Tati’s masterpice ‘Mon Oncle’. Here’s the scene at the plastics factory…

      Both wonderful films, by the way :)

  2. Seeing this makes me wonder if there isn’t some old and forgotten plastic formulation, that can be produced simply by mixing a powdered and liquid component; and therefore printed in a powder bed style 3D printer.

      1. Ha. I just like Nova and this was on a couple days ago. Now they make plastic by growing mushrooms in a mold and then coat the new shape with some low petroleum plastic.

  3. OMG… That wasn’t an anti-communist PSA.

    It was a SOUND DOLLAR PSA. Keeping inflation low, being productive and not wasteful. What an amazing message… if we had only listened…

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