The story of plastics does not end. To it there is no conclusion.
Reginald L. Wakeman, 1947
The "History of Celluloid" is a valuable stand-alone article which is also a chapter excerpt from the book "Celluloid Collectors Reference and Value Guide", published by Collector Books and written by Keith Lauer & Julie Robinson.
The book is available for purchase via our bookstore at the plastics.com bookstore
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Copyright © 1999 by Keith Lauer & Julie Robinson
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The History of Celluloid
By Keith W. Lauer
Celluloid, not to be confused with cellulite, is truly the grand-daddy of all plastics. Celluloid is the material of many desirable collections, unlike cellulite.
Celluloid was the patented name of cellulose nitrate, the first semi-synthetic plastic, and the name celluloid has evolved through popular use into the generic term for cellulose nitrate. The term celluloid shall be used in this work to identify this classic material which was commercially produced for over one hundred years, beginning in 1870.
Guide books for collectors have been recently printed for many types of plastics in general including celluloid, but this is the first attempt to produce an historically accurate account of the early American pyroxylin plastics industry and the collectible articles produced by the manufacturers thereof.
This work is an attempt to offer information in word and graphics that will help others share in the satisfaction of collecting and preserving some of the approximately 50,000 different products that have been made of celluloid since its development.
Information is provided about identification sources, developmental history, and preservation of celluloid items. The fullest satisfaction cannot be attained merely by accumulation of celluloid collectibles. Only by an understanding of the history, properties, preservation, uses, and variety of celluloid items can they be fully appreciated.
Collecting celluloid is a challenge, and the thrill of discovery is bound to come to the serious collector as he or she comes across the material in a form which is unknown and unexpected by the collector. Collectors will marvel that items of celluloid have endured so long in view of its flammability, abuse in childrens play activity, and its fragility when produced in thin sections, as in blow-molded items.
This author has made his observations on celluloid from his location in Leominster, Massachusetts. Leominster is the pioneer plastic city with a background in the production of items made of horn, hooves, ivory, and tortoise shell, continuing through celluloid and into the modern synthetic materials. Leominster also has had four men of the community named to the Plastics Hall of Fame, which is housed in the recently opened National Plastics Center.
By Julie P. Robinson
I first became interested in researching celluloid in 1991 after receiving several small advertising premiums that had belonged to relatives and held special sentimental significance. I sought to locate information on my small collection of early plastic goods and knew just where to find it.
At the time, I was a student at the Institute for the Study of Antiques and Collectibles in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. The tremendous research library at the Institute houses thousands of books on antiques and collectibles. To my disappointment, I discovered there were none written exclusively on the topic of celluloid. It had been featured insignificantly in a few minor categories on early advertising and toys, but overall the subject had been largely ignored.
Shortly thereafter, during the course of my studies, I was required to write a thesis on a subject of which I had little prior knowledge. Being well aware that pyroxylin plastic was a subject still widely unexplored by both the collector and scholar, I set to work gathering resources, only to find that very little information regarding celluloid and its inventor, John Wesley Hyatt, Jr., was readily available.
The quest for knowledge led me to contact Andra Behrendt, an Illinois collector of decorative celluloid boxes and albums. Andra's boundless enthusiasm for the subject and generosity in sharing her many resources were remarkable; she responded to my request for information by sending me a portion of her extensive collection and also providing me with several technical documents (in the form of related articles and book references) that I needed in order to get started on my research project. Furthermore, Andra put me in contact with Keith Lauer, historical archivist at the National Plastics Center and Museum in Leominster, Masschusetts.
A visit to Massachusetts in the summer of 1993 brought me to the National Plastics Center and Museum where Keith Lauer and I finally met face to face. His extensive knowledge regarding the matter of early plastics was indeed impressive, as was his personal collection of celluloid objects. I had never seen so many toys and novelties, utilitarian items, decorative goods, and advertising items assembled together in one place. They say a first impression is a lasting one, and I must emphasize, it's true! I am still amazed at the extraordinary collection Mr. Lauer has accumulated throughout the years. In addition, the resource materials he has gathered while archivist of the NPC provide numerous possibilities for a student of plastics history.
By the summer of 1995, I had finally gathered enough information to fulfill the I.S.A.C. thesis requirement. The story, John Wesley Hyatt and the Invention of Celluloid, was published nationally in the June 19th edition of AntiqueWeek, a trade paper distributed by Mayhill Publications of Knightstown, Indiana. With this project behind me, it became obvious that Mr. Lauer and I should join forces to write an extensive work on the history and applications of the first commercially successful semi-synthetic thermoplastic celluloid.
Perhaps the reason for celluloid's great success as a material had to do with the conservative approach with which the Hyatts marketed their product; carefully adapting and establishing celluloid as an alternative material for traditional substances before moving on to new applications. This is clearly evident with its establishment as a replacement for Vulcanite in denture plates, celluloid's primary use for the first five years. By 1875, when celluloid was introduced as an alternative for expensive luxury materials in fashion accessories, the impact of mass production was felt in both industry and consumerism.
Among the most significant changes were those felt in industries where traditional skills were replaced by the mass production of molded plastic articles. Craftsmen, who had been trained as horn and shell smiths soon found themselves in competition with machinery that mass produced items in minutes, when previously it had taken hours of skillful handiwork.
The social impact of celluloid's introduction as an imitation for expensive luxury materials was equally significant; it bridged the gap between the wealthy and the working classes. For the first time in history, all people could indulge in owning elegant looking jewelry and accessories, even if they couldn't afford the genuine article.
Celluloid was by far one of the most significant inventions of the nineteenth century. It gave birth to the modern plastics industry of the twentieth century, which today is continuing to advance our standard of living the world over; and just as celluloid found a multitude of uses from the late 1800s through the 1920s, modern plastics are finding useful applications in art, industry, consumerism, science, and medicine.
Early plastics are a wonderful and vast subject, a matter that deserves the respect and attention of serious antiques dealers and collectors. It is hoped that this book will further the appreciation for the material that had over 50,000 different applications ranging from the most personal of accessories, dentures, to the most influential social medium of the twentieth century, cinema film.
History of Celluloid
John Wesley Hyatt and the Invention of Celluloid
John Wesley Hyatt, Jr. was born in Starkey, Yates County, New York, on Nov. 28, 1837, the son of John W. Hyatt, Sr. and Anne Gleason Hyatt. (John Sr. had been named after the famous Methodist Evangelist John Wesley and was ardently religious.) The Hyatts had a family of seven children; three girls and four boys, of which John Jr. was the next to youngest. John W. Hyatt, inventor of Celluloid, father of the modern plastics industry.
When John was 15 years old, his parents sent him to Eddystown Seminary where they hoped he would prepare for a life in the ministry. John, however, had other ideas and a year later, dropped out of seminary and headed west toward the bustling city of Chicago where his older brother Isaiah had settled.
By 1854 at the age of 17, John was in Illinois working as a printer's apprentice. He stayed there for several years, often finding work with the help of his older brother Isaiah, who was an editor living in nearby Rockford. While in Illinois, Hyatt met and married a young Chicago woman named Julia D. Philleo.
On Feb.19, 1861, J.W. Hyatt was issued a patent for his first invention, a kitchen knife sharpener. On June 17, 1862, the ambitious 24-year-old received his second patent, #35,652 Improvement In Knife Or Scissor Sharpener, based on the invention he had patented the year before.
Shortly thereafter, Hyatt and his wife returned to the Albany, New York, area where he found work as a journeyman printer. It was sometime in 1863 that John saw a newspaper advertisement that caught his attention and sparked his creative interest. Phelan and Collander, the nation's largest billiard supply company, was offering the handsome reward of $10,000 to the first person who could create a suitable ivory substitute for use in billiard balls.
Fueled by the promised reward money, Hyatt accepted the challenge. Working in the print shop by day and experimenting nights and weekends, he diligently sought to develop an ivory substitute and become the winner of the cash reward. In September of 1865, Hyatt made application for a patented process of manufacturing billiard balls using a combination of shellac and ivory/bone dust, layered over a core of wound fiber. When the patent was granted on October 10, 1865 (#50,359), he took action to protect his interest; within a few months he and his trusted friend Peter Kinnear formed the Hyatt Billiard Ball Company. Together they developed machinery and manufacturing techniques for the production of wound fiber core and shellac composition billiard balls. The year was 1866.
A short time after this development, personal tragedy struck the Hyatt household; Julia, John's 26-year-old wife, contracted pneumonia and died on October 9, 1867, leaving behind her grieving 29-year-old husband.
Undaunted by his loss, Hyatt continued to experiment in hopes of improving on his invention. Since his billiard balls lacked the characteristics and density of true ivory, he continued to experiment with familiar materials such as sawdust, paper flock, gum shellac, and varnish. Over the course of time, he successfully developed a composition material that was patented on April 14, 1868 (Pat. #76,765), Improvement In Compositions For Billiard Balls and Other Articles.
Hyatt also developed a pressed wood composition that had potential as a molding material. With the help of his older brother Isaiah, he formed a small family business which would profit from the substance. In 1868, along with younger brother Charles, the Hyatt Mfg. Co. was established at 29 Quackenbush St. in Albany for the production of pressed composition dominoes and checkers.
Meanwhile John continued his job as a printer, while spending as much time as possible in his search to invent artificial ivory. As with many wonderful inventions, it was an accidental discovery that lead to his eventual success.
While working in the print shop one morning, Hyatt reached for the collodion bottle, only to find that the solution had tipped over and spilled. Expecting to clean up a sticky mess, what he discovered instead was a dried piece of solid collodion about the size and thickness of his thumbnail. John observed that the density of the material resembled that of the ivory he had so earnestly been trying to duplicate. Realizing the significance in his findings, he exclaimed "Eureka!" at his discovery. It was the breakthrough Hyatt needed and from that day forward, he turned his full attention toward experimenting with solid and liquid collodion.
John W. Hyatt, inventor of Celluloid, father of the modern plastics industry.
Hyatt set to work developing a billiard ball that consisted of a solid center made from paper flock and shellac, coated with a thick layer of collodion mixed with bone and ivory dust. Although there were obvious drawbacks with the new ball, Hyatt patented his process (U.S. Pat. # 88,634) and began production in a small factory he called the Albany Billiard Ball Co.
Printers frequently used a bottled liquid product to protect their hands while working. Commercially the solution was available as "New Skin", a liquid court plaster, but technically it was collodion, a mixture of cellulose nitrate and ethyl alcohol. When brushed on the hands, liquid collodion dried into an elastic, waterproof film which created an invisible coating. It worked like a second skin that protected the hands of printers from ink and paper cuts.
Around this time, problems associated with the new billiard balls began to surface. Hyatt had received a letter from a billiard saloon proprietor in Colorado who shared his concerns: It seems that more than once a lighted cigar had come in contact with the balls, causing a serious fire. He also mentioned that occasionally the violent contact of the balls resulted in a loud BANG!, like that of a percussion guncap. The saloon operator stated that he did not care so much about it, but that instantly every man in the room pulled a gun.
By 1868 the enterprise, located at Grand and Plain Streets, was in full operation. Peter Kinnear, Hyatt's associate from the Hyatt Billiard Ball Co., was put in charge of the factory operations so that he could devote himself to improving upon his invention.
Over time Hyatt developed a method of casting a celluloid composition material into a mold; he also developed machinery to turn the balls on, making them a perfect sphere. Hyatt's Improved Pool Balls were packaged in wooden boxes that featured a trademark illustrated on the lid.
In his quest to find solutions to the problems associated with the use of cellulose nitrate, Hyatt continued to work diligently, patenting three different improvements on solid collodion between April and May of 1869. During this time he consulted with his older brother Isaiah, convincing him to leave Chicago and return to Albany in order to assist with the experimentation.
Several challenges lay ahead for John and Isaiah; they needed to find a solvent that would make solid collodion pliable, and they also needed to develop methods for making the resulting compound moldable. Isaiah had heard of others who had experimented with camphor, the white crystalline resin derived from the camphora evergreen tree, and he suggested that John give it a try.
Hyatt combined collodion and camphor under normal conditions, then applied heat to the compound. What resulted was immediate success in making the mass soft enough to mold or cast. Hyatt had finally ascertained the methods that would result in the world's first commercially successful semi-synthetic thermoplastic.
This photograph was taken in 1916 at the Albany Billiard Ball Company at Grand and Plain St. in the city's south end. The manufacture of Hyatt's Improved Ball began at the factory around 1875 and later in March of 1877, the company became an official licensee of the Celluloid Mfg. Company of Newark.
The Hyatt brothers immediately registered their discovery with the United States Patent Office and on June 15, 1869, received a joint patent for the fundamental invention of pyroxylin plastic. It was titled "Improved Method Of Making Solid Collodion" U.S.P. #91,341. This German-made machine was imported into the United States during the 1920s. It was designed for molding celluloid denture plate blanks.
When Professor Seeley arrived in Albany, the Hyatt brothers conducted their process of manufacturing a solid piece of pyroxylin plastic by mixing pulp collodion with camphor and applying heat and pressure. Seeley, a trained chemist, was impressed with the invention, but not the method of manufacture. The inflammability of cellulose nitrate posed a serious hazard to the Hyatt brothers.
Professor Seeley kindly advised them that "if accidentally or otherwise they were to apply a little too high a temperature, the quantity with which they were dealing would inevitably destroy them, along with the building and adjacent property".
Seeley then suggested to the Hyatts' that their material had potential as a replacement for hardened rubber in the manufacture of dental plate blanks. Since solid collodion was clear in its original form, various fillers and pigments could be added to imitate the natural color of the gums. Taking Seeley's advice, the Hyatt brothers set to work developing a market for their moldable pyroxylin plastic. Fortunately, the timing was just right for the introduction of this new material, which they decided to call Celluloid.
For years hardened rubber had been used successfully as a denture blank material; however, when the Goodyear Dental Vulcanite Co. purchased the patent rights, they began to impose expensive fees upon the substance. In addition, the rising cost of rubber, due to the popularity of the bicycle craze and the demand for this commodity for tires, made Vulcanite an ever increasing expense for dentists who owned large practices. Thus the stage was set for the introduction of Celluloid dentures.
1869 was a busy year for the Hyatt brothers. Charles was overseeing production of game pieces at the Embossing Co.; Isaiah left Illinois and returned to Albany in order to help with the newly patented plastic material and 31-year-old John, widowed two years earlier, remarried on July 21st to Anna E. Taft. All the while, John W. and Isaiah S. Hyatt continued to work on perfecting the recipe for their new semi-synthetic thermoplastic and on July 12, 1870, U.S. Pat. #105,338 "Improvement In Treating And Molding Pyroxylin," was issued to the brothers. The three claims of this patent were:
This German-made machine was imported into the United States during the 1920s. It was designed for molding celluloid denture plate blanks.
1. The grinding of pyroxylin (nitrocellulose) into a pulp.
2. The use of finely ground camphor added to the pulp and then heated to activate the solvent action.
3. The use of pressure during the heating and cooling process.
Above are Celluloid Hyatt Pocket Billiard Balls with original box manufactured at the Albany Billiard Ball Co., Albany, New York.
It was Isaiah Hyatt who named the new invention "Celluloid". Two different explanations of the naming exist: one is that the word is a contraction for "colloid of cellulose". Another states that it is a contraction of the word "cellulose" and the Greek word "oid" which
Advertising Celluloid as a use for denture material to the public took place through the medium of trade cards. Although rare, on occasion a card can be found that mentions the use of this material. Harvard Dental Parlor of Boston and Queen City Dentist of Cincinnati were two such patrons of celluloid as an alternative material for dentures, the cost ranging $5.00
Several pages of testimonials are found in an 1878 Celluloid Mfg. Co. Instruction Manual for dentists. The following are excerpts from the booklet:
"I have used celluloid as a base for artificial teeth for several years with great satisfaction. It is durable, and does not warp or change its form, provided the conditions are strictly complied with. My patients are delighted with it." I.J.Wetherbee, DDS, Boston, MA, Mar. 23, 1878
"Celluloid is an excellent base for artificial teeth and has given excellent satisfaction to 200 of my patients who are wearing it. I use it for artificial palates and noses, and for the latter it is very much better than rubber." A.S.Dudley, MD, Salem, MA., Mar. 20, 1878
"I think celluloid the best base for artificial teeth I ever worked, and I have used everything. I can make a set of teeth in the shortest time of anything I ever worked, and in half the time I can with rubber. It is the strongest plate also." J.I. Fosdick, LaPorte, IN., Feb. 12, 1878
"Do you feel satisfied with celluloid?, I seem to hear you ask. I answer that I would not give $5.00 for a rubber license. I would not have rubber in my own mouth on account of the heated feeling. I have broken two rubber plates in the time I have worn one of celluloid. It is healthful, cleanly, strong, unchangeable and beautiful." B.B. Chandler, Boston, MA, Feb. 11, 1878
"I esteem celluloid of such inestimable value to the profession, that I should regard it as criminal not to give my unqualified testimony in its favor, which, after using it for more than three years, it affords me pleasure to do. After overcoming a few difficulties at first, I like it better every plate I make, and consider it superior to every other plastic material for dental plates." D.Burrill, Freeport, IL, Feb. 8, 1878
"Three years since I took celluloid in hand, I have used it ever since in rather a large practice. I have no trouble in working it less in fact than in using rubber. I would not return to the use of rubber if I could get license free, and get the rubber thrown in. Having been 40 years in a large practice, I know what I am talking about." D.D. Dickinson, MD, Boston, MA, Feb. 4, 1878
Above is a completed celluloid upper plate with porcelain teeth. Both trade cards offered patrons the opportunity to purchase celluloid dentures.
The Pyroxylin Plastics
Industry in America
By late 1872, Isaiah successfully convinced several wealthy New York capitalists, Joseph Larocque, Tracey Edson, and Marshall Lefferts, to back the new plastic material. Lefferts, the primary financial investor, was especially attracted to the possibilities of celluloid, as it had unlimited potential as a molding material.
In the winter of 1872, 1873, the Hyatts moved to Newark, New Jersey, and established the Celluloid Manufacturing Company in a five-story brick building on Mechanic St. Employing 150 workers, they commenced the production of raw celluloid stock in block, sheet, and rod form. In 1873, Celluloid became a registered trade name with the U.S. Patent Office; exclusive rights for its use were granted to the Hyatts' and the Celluloid Manufacturing Company.
Two years later in 1875, a devastating fire caused Hyatt to relocate his plastics works to the outskirts of Newark. The Celluloid Mfg. Company set up shop in an old cradle factory and the production of celluloid resumed. The owners also began construction of a large complex of brick buildings in the vicinity of Broad and Ferry streets, adjacent to the old cradle factory. This site later became the heart of Newark's industrial district.
Throughout the 1870s, an array of utilitarian and ornamental applications for celluloid unfolded as the Hyatt Brothers improved on production methods and machinery for their wonderful pyroxylin plastic. One of celluloid's greatest assets was its ability to successfully imitate expensive luxury materials. Since it was clear in its original state, various dyes and fillers could be added during the production process, making celluloid a remarkable imitation of expensive ivory, tortoise shell, coral, jet, and amber.
In the year 1878, Isaiah traveled to Paris where he started the French Celluloid Company. When he returned to America in the early 1880s, the brothers turned their attention to developing a more efficient method of purifying the water used in the production of celluloid. Together they established the Hyatt Pure Water Company in 1881, patenting their unique filtering process in 1884. Sadly, it was shortly after this that the collective genius of the Hyatt brothers abruptly ended. Isaiah died in March of 1885, leaving John to continue the work alone.
The success of celluloid as a quality imitation material spawned tremendous growth within the infant plastics industry. In spite of its dangerously flammable nature, by the mid 1880s several companies were in business producing pyroxylin thermoplastics, identical in composition to celluloid, but marketed under their own registered trade names.
Patent battles ensued between Hyatt and those who imitated his inventions. Companies which started with inexperienced help frequently manufactured inferior products or due to the ignorance of the dangerous materials used in manufacture, burned to the ground. Even the Celluloid Manufacturing Company experienced several devastating fires, but they always recovered and went on to become the most important manufacturer of plastics in history.
Executives and employees of the Celluloid Manufacturing Company of Newark, New Jersey, during the early 1870s.
Between 1872 and 1880, 16 different companies were licensed by the Celluloid Manufacturing Company for the production and distribution of various finished goods and novelties made from the new manmade plastic. The following is a list of those companies, their finished celluloid product, and the date they were licensed.
Oct. 01, 1872 Samuel S. White, Celluloid Dental Plate Blanks
Feb. 12, 1873 Celluloid Harness and Trimming Co., Martingale Rings
Jan. 26, 1874 Edward C. Penfield, Truss Pads
Nov. 20, 1874 Meriden Cutlery Co., Knife Handles
Nov. 21, 1874 Isaiah Hyatt and The Celluloid Brush Co., Dresserware
Sept. 01, 1875 Emery Wheel Co., Emery Wheels
Sept. 18, 1875 Spencer Optical Mfg. Co., Eyeglass Frames
Dec. 22, 1875 Celluloid Novelty Co., Collars and Fancy Goods
Mar. 01, 1877 Albany Billiard Ball Co., Hyatt Improved Ball
Mar. 09, 1878 Celluloid Waterproof Cuff and Collar Co.
Oct. 23, 1878 Celluloid Hat and Trimming Co.
Oct. 31, 1878 Celluloid Fancy Goods Co., Finished Novelties
Nov. 30, 1878 Celluloid Shoe Protector Co.
Dec. 12, 1878 Celluloid Piano Key Co., Piano Keys
Apr. 01, 1879 Celluloid Veneer Co., Sheet Veneer
Mar. 01, 1880 Celluloid Surgical Instrument Co., Handles
Several other companies were also licensed to produce and distribute finished articles with plastic supplied by the Newark-based manufacturing company. Although dates are not available, the list includes:
The Celluloid Show Case Co., Veneers
J.B.Oelkers, Fancy Goods
Denison Brothers Organ Stop Co. â“ Organ Pulls and Knobs
The Celluloid Letter Co., Die Cut Letters and Numbers
The Celluloid Stereotype Co.
The Celluloid Corset and Clasp Co., Waterproof Boning and Clasps
The Celluloid Varnish Co.
This illustration shows the Celluloid Manufacturing Company's facility in Newark.
John W. Hyatt continued his efforts to improve the methods of manufacturing celluloid and went on to develop a number of other significant inventions relating to its production. In addition to the water purification process, introduced in 1881, he also devised a type of roller bearing to reduce friction on machinery and moving parts. As a result, he founded the Hyatt Roller Bearing Company of Harrison, New Jersey,
The gold Perkin Medal was awarded to John Wesley Hyatt at the age of 77 by the Society of Chemical Industry, May, 1914.
This Celluloid Manufacturing Company business card, produced by Baldwin and Gleason, on imitation ivory grained celluloid sheet, bears the name of Marshall Lefferts, primary financial investor for the Celluloid Manufacturing Company of Newark, New Jersey.
The Big Four and
Celluloid, Arlington, Viscoloid, Fiberloid, and American Zylonite
Development of the Pyroxylin Plastic Industry in the U.S.
Any account of the development of the cellulose nitrate industry in this country must include references to the early work done in England and how it relates to our American effort. A quote from Landmarks of the Plastics Industry states:
"The history of the plastic industry, like that of many others, consists mainly of long periods of gradual progress, relieved every now and then by a sudden leap forward."
As we've explored the development of the early pyroxylin plastics industry, this truth has become more obvious. One man's efforts were built upon by the next and after many years of trial and error a successful new material, celluloid, was born.
It is sometimes difficult to note the year a new material was discovered, developed, or invented. Would the date be that of first experiment, formal announcement, commercial production, or introduction into the market economy?
John Eklund, curator of the Department of the History of Science, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution has noted:
"These dates are somewhat arbitrary since few inventions really occur in a single year. At the least there is a development phase when some form of the polymer product exists but the processes are not yet fully worked out; the formulation is usually not the same as when the product is being made in market quantities" and so it is with celluloid. Therefore, the authors have chosen to date the material by the time of first production and general availability.
Cellulose Nitrate and Parkesine
Experimentation in the field of nitrocellulose had been conducted by Schonbein, Pelouse, and other Europeans interested in chemistry and invention during the early 1800s. Most of these pioneers directed their efforts toward the use of nitrocellulose as an explosive, or as collodion for use in photography. However during the early 1860s in Birmingham, England, there lived a metallurgist turned inventor whose name was Alexander Parkes.
Parkes managed to use cellulose nitrate along with various oils and solvents as a moldable plastic substance. He called his invention Parkesine and proceeded to fashion a variety of small novelty items from the material. In 1862 a variety of Parkesine novelties, combs, buttons, boxes, and other products, were displayed at the International Exhibition in London and also at the Paris Universal Exhibition. Parkes was awarded an honorary medal for excellence of product and the Birmingham Daily Mail hailed Parkesine as "Wonderful Substance". In 1865 Alexander Parkes was granted a patent for his semi-synthetic plastic material.
Parkes believed that he could produce his plastic substance quickly and at a very low price. Between the years 1864 and 1866 he formed the Parkesine Company Ltd. and proceeded to manufacture his plastic material at the factory of George Spill, a waterproof cloth manufacturer, in Hackney Wick, London. Spill's brother Daniel became an associate of Parkes, learning the art of making pyroxylin compounds and eventually becoming managing director of the firm.
Unfortunately, in an attempt to exploit Parkesine, production methods at the factory did not include the purest form of raw materials; unrefined cellulose fiber and reclaimed solvents were used in order to manufacture the product as inexpensively and quickly as possible. The result was an uncured finished product that was a commercial failure. Articles made of this cheaply produced Parkesine warped, discolored, and broke easily and by 1868, the Parkesine Company Ltd. was out of business.
Near the time of the Parkesine failure, John Wesley Hyatt, an Albany, New York printer and inventor, accepted the challenge of the nation's largest billiards supplier, Phelan and Collander, to invent a suitable material for replacing ivory in the manufacture of billiard balls; the company offered the impressive prize of $10,000 for the accomplishment. History does not record that Hyatt ever received any money from Phelan and Collander; however he did invent a method of producing billiard balls and in so doing, introduced a material that had been continuously manufactured for the past 130 years.
The material, named Celluloid by John and his older brother Isaiah Smith Hyatt, was the first commercially successful semi-synthetic pyroxylin thermoplastic. In 1870, the Hyatt brothers, at the suggestion of Charles A. Seeley, formed the Albany Dental Plate Company for the purpose of making and marketing celluloid denture blanks.
The Celluloid Manufacturing
Company, 1872 - 1890
Meanwhile, Isaiah Hyatt convinced several wealthy investors to back the new plastic material, and in the winter of 1872-1873, they moved to Newark, NJ where the Celluloid Manufacturing Company was established on Mechanic Street. During this time, the Hyatts were also issued a patent for the first injection molding machine for plastics. In 1873 the word Celluloid was registered as the pyroxylin plastic's official trade name.
The Celluloid Manufacturing Company produced and supplied cellulose nitrate plastic stock to a number of establishments that were licensed to use the Celluloid trade name as a prefix to their particular product or finished article. The gradual granting of these licenses served to test the acceptability of celluloid for a variety of products and also spurred the creation of new uses, with little or no risk to the Celluloid Mfg. Co. Of the many licensees, several prospered while others failed, but nevertheless, celluloid became established as a reputable product.
Competition in Pyroxylin Plastics
The gradual successes of the Celluloid firm did not go unnoticed. By the 1880s, the infant plastics industry had begun to expand, and serious competitors were beginning to enter the picture. However, before we set the stage for the development of American pyroxylin plastics, let's first return to England and take an objective look at the events surrounding the failure of Parkesine.
Xylonite and Ivoride
After the closing of the Parkesine Works, Daniel Spill, the former associate of Alexander Parkes, made his re-entry into the field of plastics. In 1869 around the same time Hyatt was applying for patents related to his pyroxylin plastic, Spill reformulated the Parkesine recipe using a purer form of raw materials. He named the resulting pyroxylin plastic substance Xylonite and registered his enterprise (situated on the premises of the former Parkesine Works and his brother's waterproofing business) as the Xylonite Company. However his product fared no better than Parkesine, perhaps because of skeptical consumers, and by 1874 the company collapsed.
Undaunted by this failure, Spill moved to a new site in Homerton and established the Daniel Spill Co. for the manufacture of Xylonite and Ivoride, an imitation ivory version of Xylonite.
In 1876 Spill made an agreement with L.P. Merriam, who built a small factory next door to the Xylonite Company, with the intention of manufacturing finished articles of pyroxylin plastic. By 1879 Spill and Merriam had merged their two businesses to become the British Xylonite Company, Ltd. Business was slow for the first several years, but in 1885 British Xylonite joined forces with Lewis L. Hyatt (no relation to the American inventor of celluloid), who had been marketing waterproof linen collars and cuffs in France. From that time forward, business for British Xylonite improved; however a devastating fire caused the production of pyroxylin plastic to be resumed in Suffolk in 1887.
However, the story of Xylonite does not end there because a complicated patent situation regarding Daniel Spill and John Hyatt during the early 1870s had a direct impact on the American pyroxylin plastics industry.
Spill vs. Hyatt
In the year 1875, Daniel Spill filed suit against the Celluloid Manufacturing Company for alleged patent infringement by Hyatt. The case, which accused Hyatt of purloining the use of camphor as a plasticizer, came before the Honorable Judge C.J. Blatchford in the U.S. Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York. After five harrowing years of litigation, in 1880 Judge Blatchford reached a decision in favor of Daniel Spill. This victory opened a door of opportunity for Spill to profit, and he sold his Xylonite patents to Leroy L. Brown of Massachusetts, owner of the Graylock Paper Mills.
Under license of Spill and British Xylonite, Leroy L. Brown formed the American Zylonite Company in Adams, Massachusetts, in 1881.26 Two years later in 1883, the first American Zylonite products were commercially introduced including combs, brushes, waterproof linens, and small novelties.
Celluloid Absorbs Zylonite
In 1884 however, a turn of events led Judge Blatchford to reverse his previous court decision; it seemed that Daniel Spill had imitated Alexander Parkes' invention of Parkesine concerning the use of camphor as a plasticizer in the manufacture of pyroxylin plastic, the very thing that Spill was accusing Hyatt of doing. With the decision reversed in favor of Hyatt, Spill was legally defeated. He left America, returning to England where he died of diabetes a few year later in 1887.
On Jan. 1,1891, the Celluloid Manufacturing Company changed its name to the Celluloid Company when it absorbed several of the small licensed firms in Newark, as well as the financially struggling American Zylonite Co. of Adams, Massachusetts.
The Celluloid Company continued to manufacture pyroxylin plastics from their Newark-based factories throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century. It was acquired in the late 1920s by the Celanese Corporation.
This Eversharp Skyliner fountain pen was designed by Henry Dreyfuss of Celanese Corporation. It was a best seller for the firm throughout the 1940s. Produced in a variety of colors and metal combinations and made of two-tone striped and solid celluloid, it is believed to be the last Eversharp pen manufactured from domestic pyroxylin plastic.
The Celanese Corporation of America was formed in 1918 by two Swiss brothers, Henri and Cecile Dreyfuss, who had been working for the British government during WWI manufacturing cellulose acetate dope to coat the wings of airplanes. After Hyatt's death in 1920, Celanese gained controlling stock in the Celluloid Corporation, finally acquiring it completely in 1927. The Celluloid Division of Celanese was active in the manufacture of vanity and dresser set articles throughout the latter half of the 1920s and into the 1930s, giving the tradename "Arch Amerith" to the line of pyroxylin plastic articles.
The merger of Celluloid Corporation and Celanese was completed in 1941 and the new title Plastics Division, Celanese Corp. of America was adopted in 1947. After having made celluloid in the Newark plant for over 77 years, the Celanese Corporation ceased production of pyroxylin plastic in 1949 and in 1950 they dropped the celluloid tradename.
Arlington Company, 1895 - 1915
The string of events leading to DuPont's entry into plastics begins with the introduction of the Merchant's Manufacturing Company and a pyroxylin plastic material they called Pasbosene. The company was founded by a group of Newark businessmen in 1881, who sought to break into the infant plastics industry. They had little knowledge of how to make cellulose nitrate however, and their product was commercially unsuccessful.
In 1883 the Merchant's Manufacturing Company merged with the Joseph R. France Co. of Plainfield, New Jersey, and reorganized under the name Cellonite Company. France had been nitrating cellulose since 1878, and although he had little knowledge of the manufacture of plastics, he did know how to make nitrocellulose. In 1886, with an experienced chemist on board, the Cellonite Company relocated to a small factory in Arlington, New Jersey, and proceeded to manufacture a better quality of pyroxylin plastic, which they called Cellonite.
In 1887, the Cellonite facility was destroyed by a devastating explosion and fire, a serious hazard associated with the manufacture of highly flammable cellulose nitrate plastics. The following year however, a new plant was built and the company reorganized for the production of pyroxylin plastic renamed Pyralin. The name of their firm was the Arlington Manufacturing Company.
Business was slow and competition from the Celluloid Company stiff, but an odd twist of events in 1891 served to establish the Arlington company as Celluloid's main competitor. After the Celluloid Company ruthlessly put American Zylonite out of business, the Arlington Manufacturing Company hired a large number of displaced Zylonite employees. Many of these workers had a great deal of experience in the pyroxylin plastics industry that had once flourished at the Adams plant, and as a result the new workers and supervisors were a great asset to the Arlington Manufacturing Company.
In 1893 a separate company was formed for the manufacture of Pyralin collars and cuffs and a factory built adjacent to the plastics plant. As the reputation of Pyralin grew, production increased and in 1895 the two companies merged to become the Arlington Company. By the turn of the twentieth century, Pyralin had become established as Celluloid's chief rival.
Merchant's Manufacturing Company and Pasbosene 1881 - 1883;
Cellonite Company 1883 - 1887; Arlington Manufacturing Company 1888 - 1895; Arlington Company 1895 - 1915; E.I. DuPont de Nemoures 1915 - 1917
One of the important factors in the success of the Arlington Company was its highly competitive approach to marketing. In the early 1900s they established sales offices in Toronto, New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, Detroit, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.
In 1913 Arlington constructed a branch facility in Poughkeepsie, New York, to produce Pyralin combs, collars, cuffs, and toys. In that same year they also formed the Florida Essential Oils Company with the intent to raise camphor trees on 12,000 acres of land near Waller, Florida.
By 1915, the Arlington company was the largest manufacturer of pyroxylin plastic in the United States, producing nearly 40% of the total American output (Celluloid produced 25%; Fiberloid 25%; and Viscoloid 10%). In December of 1915, E.I. DuPont de Nemoures and Co. purchased the Arlington Company for the cash price of $6,700,000. At the same time, DuPont also bought the Norwich Paper Company of Connecticut; as tissue paper was the form of cellulose used in the making of Pyralin.
In June of 1916, over one million pounds of cellulose nitrate burned in an inferno of flames that reached one hundred feet into the air above the Arlington plant in New Jersey. The following year DuPont dissolved the Arlington facility and production of Pyralin was transferred to other DuPont departments.
In the 1920s, DuPont also purchased the Della Celluloid Company of Italy from its owner Dr. Silvio Mazzuchelli. However, political situations in 1936 concerning Benito Mussilini, who took a dim view of foreigners controlling companies in Italy, caused DuPont to resell the company to its original owner.
Viscoloid Company, 1901 - 1977
The story of the Viscoloid Company of Leominster, Massachusetts is an important one and of particular interest to collectors, especially those who specifically collect such items as fancy celluloid hair ornaments or blow-molded dolls and toys.
Viscoloid is somewhat unique in its beginnings since all of its founders had been involved, in one way or another, with the natural plastic material, horn. During the early 1880s four businessmen, Alexander Paton, Bernard W. Doyle, Ludwig Stross and Paul Rie became familiar with one another through various connections in the horn industry. Stross and Rie were partners in the Albert Ochse Company of Paris, the largest dealer of horn in the world.
Bernard Doyle, a Leominster native, had traveled extensively throughout South America, Mexico, and Europe with Albert Ochse in the quest to buy quality horn. When supplies in America began to dwindle, Ochse and Doyle joined forces and founded the Horn Supply Company with the intent of processing cattle horn for the manufacture of natural plastic articles. Alexander Paton had organized the Paton Manufacturing Company in Leominster in 1879 to produce horn combs, buttons, and jewelry.
This quartet of businessmen formed the Sterling Comb Company for the manufacture of hair ornaments, dressing combs, and novelties. As the demand for hair ornaments grew, especially the high back Spanish style, a second business, the Harvard Novelty Company, was formed to help meet production needs.
This turn-of-the-century photograph shows a drilling crew as they worked on the Viscoloid well in Leominster, Massachusetts. The job was completed prior to the manufacture of pyroxylin plastic at a cost of $600. When finished, an unlimited supply of 60-gallons of pure water per minute was available through a 4" pipe. A storage tank with a capacity of 20,000 gallons was also installed when the well was drilled.
With the continued growth and prosperity of the Paton Manufacturing Company, the Sterling Comb Company, and the Harvard Novelty Company, the owners decided to Handifold Tissue advertisement 1923 Viscoloid pocket calendar
The process of making pyroxylin plastic involved the use of cellulose, which was treated with nitric and sulfuric acids and alcohol. The result was cellulose nitrate, which then had to be washed with pure water, water that was free of iron, sulfur, and any organic particles or substances. To obtain the large amounts of quality water needed, the founders of Viscoloid hired a drilling rig and crew to dig a 200 ft. deep well prior to the date of first production in December of 1901.
At the time Viscoloid began production, the type of cellulose used in the manufacturing process came in the form of double bleached cotton yarn. This yarn was subjected to heat in a hot air chamber where it was thoroughly dried, then run through a cutter that chopped it into tiny pieces. The cut-up cellulose fiber was then placed in large jars and soaked in a nitric and sulfuric acid solution. After a chemical change had taken place and the cellulose was fully nitrated, the jars were emptied and the
In 1902, just one year after the Viscoloid Company produced their first sheet of pyroxylin plastic, another Leominster industry was born, the Handifold Toilet Paper Company; their first sheet of tissue paper measured 64 inches wide and 60 feet long. J.G. Jarvis, superintendent of Viscoloid, was quoted in the newspaper as saying, "This class of paper can be used as a basis for manufacturing the Viscoloid, instead of cotton yarn which is now being used, if it could be gotten just as cheaply." The Handifold management replied to Jarvis's comment by stating they were indeed prepared to make tissue paper for the manufacture of cellulose nitrate by Viscoloid Company.
Handifold Tissue advertisement
1923 Viscoloid pocket calendar
Viscoloid plant in Leominster, Ma
Viscoloid quickly became established as a major company in the manufacture of pyroxylin plastic stock and finished articles. The numerous comb shops in Leominster began to mold Viscoloid in place of horn for the production of dressing combs and hair ornaments. By 1910 however, changing fashion caused a serious decline in the use and sale of fancy imitation tortoise shell hair ornaments. As a result, the company was forced to recognize the need for other product lines and began the manufacture of toilet articles and dresserware.
It wasn't until after 1914 that the Viscoloid Company began to market toys made of pyroxylin plastic. Prior to this time, most of the toys in America were manufactured in Germany and imported into the United States. However, when World War I broke out, trade with the Germans abruptly ceased.
At that time Viscoloid seized the opportunity to enter the toymaking business. They hired German-born artist Paul H. Kramme as a designer in 1914 and quickly became the most prolific of pyroxylin plastic toy manufacturers in America. By the 1920s Viscoloid's toymaking department alone employed 350 workers.
The toys made by Viscoloid were usually manufactured by the blow molding process, a technique in which two thin sheets of Viscoloid were placed in a mold and steam was blown between them, softening the material and forcing it to take the form of the mold.
In 1925, DuPont purchased the Viscoloid Co. of Leominster, Massachusetts, changing the name to DuPont Viscoloid Co., Inc. In that same year the DuPont Poughkeepsie plant was closed and its Pyralin product line of collars, cuffs, and toiletware was transferred to the DuPont Viscoloid facility in Leominster. The following year DuPont purchased the Pacific Novelty Company as well. This photo shows the top portion of the Dupont Viscoloid Company letterhead.
Viscoloid made nearly every variety of domestic and wild animal in this fashion, as well as a great many floating birds and fish toys. Their other products include holiday novelties, rattles, and figural character toys. The marketing of these Viscoloid products was done by the Pacific Novelty Company of New York City. The firm had been organized in 1891 by Joseph Gutman and eventually became the largest distributor of Viscoloid hair ornaments and novelties in America.
In 1928 and 1929 DuPont called some of their finest pyroxylin plastic toiletware Lucite, branding each individual piece with the new tradename. It should be clearly understood that this particular material was cellulose nitrate plastic, the same material as Pyralin, and not the acrylic plastic DuPont introduced in 1936. The acrylic material now known as Lucite was first called "Pontalite" when it was introduced in 1936. In 1934 the Viscoloid Corporation discontinued the manufacture of pyroxylin plastics; however they continued to market articles made from the existing stock throughout the 1930s. DuPont Viscoloid continued to operate in the plastics industry until November of 1977.
Fiberloid Company, 1894 - 1938
The early beginnings of the Fiberloid Company can be directly traced to the formation of the Lithoid Manufacturing Company; however it is necessary to first mention an earlier organization, the Lignoid Fancy Article Manufacturing Company. Lignoid was formed in Newark, New Jersey, in 1878, and two years later the company moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts.
It is currently not known what happened with the Lignoid Fancy Article Mfg. Company as it seems to fade away in historical records. However, there is a possibility, but no documented proof, that the Lignoid firm was reorganized to form the Solid Fiber Company.
The Solid Fiber Company of Newburyport, operated by Edward F. Coffin, was an established producer of cellulose nitrate sheet stock. In 1884, Silas Kenyon, George Tapley and J. D. Parsons of the United Manufacturing Co. of Springfield, Massachusetts, a paper collar and cuff enterprise, merged their business with the Solid Fiber Company of Newburyport for the manufacture of waterproof cuffs and collars. In January of 1888 Silas Kenyon, George Tapley, J. D. Parsons of Springfield, and Julius Levine, a financial backer from New York, assumed control of the Solid Fiber Company and reorganized the firm as the Lithoid Corporation.
The new enterprise carried on operations for several years producing their brand of pyroxylin plastic "Lithoid" for the manufacture of waterproof collars and cuffs, as well as sheet stock for piano keys. Then in the early 1890s, the company went out of business; however the machinery and factory facilities were left intact. Shortly thereafter, the businessmen previously involved in the manufacture of Lithoid decided once again to engage in a pyroxylin plastic venture. In 1894 they formed the Fiberloid Company of Maine and proceeded to manufacture a nitrocellulose plastic material they called Fiberloid. Operations were successfully carried out in the Newburyport facility until after the turn of the twentieth century.
In 1904 the Fiberloid manufacturing plant was completely destroyed by a raging fire. The following year a new factory complex was built on a 16-acre tract of land along the Chicopee River in the Indian Orchard section of Springfield. In 1911 the name of the company was changed to the Fiberloid Company of Massachusetts.
By 1914, Fiberloid had doubled its plant capacity and was said to have been responsible for one-quarter of the total cellulose nitrate production in the United States, a production output equal with that of the Celluloid Company. In 1916 the name was changed to Fiberloid Corporation.
Throughout the 1920s, Fiberloid Corporation's reputation as a manufacturer of quality pyroxylin plastics continued to grow and production increased. The line of goods marketed including toiletware, cutlery handles, automobile curtains, toothbrushes, bathroom accessories, fountain pens, golf club faces, advertising novelties, jewelry, imitation leather, and cuffs and collars. By 1930 the Indian Orchard facility consisted of 40 buildings, all protected against fire by their own fire department, with three inexhaustible water supplies. A cafeteria and emergency hospital were also located on the grounds.
In 1933 the Monsanto Chemical Company of St. Louis purchased 14% interest in the company and five years later completely absorbed the company; in 1938 Fiberloid became the Plastic Division of Monsanto.
The Ill Fated Fifth
American Zylonite, 1881 - 1890
In early 1881 the American Zylonite Company was formed by Leroy L. Brown of Adams, Massachusetts, who had purchased patents from British Xylonite with the intent of manufacturing pyroxylin plastic under license of Englishman Daniel Spill, the developer of Xylonite. Edward Worden in his volume Nitrocellulose Industry notes that the American name was pronounced "zy-low-nite," the zy as in enzyme, while the English name was pronounced zil-o-nite, the il as in Spill.
Brown was the owner of Graylock Paper Mills in Cummington and had a ready source for the cellulose fiber used in the making of cellulose nitrate. For two years following the organization of the firm, Brown and his employees worked tirelessly building a complex to manufacture raw pyroxylin plastic and finished articles from the material he called Zylonite.
In the summer of 1883 a variety of American Zylonite goods were finally placed on the market. The product line included combs, brushes, collars, cuffs, toys, handles, shoe horns, curtain rings, surgical instruments, chess pieces, doorknobs, manicure implements, piano keys, and much more. These finished goods were all products of the Zylonite Brush and Comb Co.; the Zylonite Collar and Cuff Co.; the Zylonite Novelty Company; and United Zylonite Co.
This circa 1895 photograph shows a group of workers standing in front of a trolley car that ran between the towns of North Adams, Zylonite, Renfrew, and Adams.
The Zylonite facility was considered one of the largest pyroxylin plastic facilities in the world. Taking into consideration that 126 employees worked in the packaging department alone making cases and boxes for Zylonite products, it must have indeed been an awesome enterprise.
The growth of the Zylonite Company was due to many factors, but one of the most important attributes to Zylonite's success was the contributions of George M. Mowbray, the company's technical manager and chemist. Mowbray came to North Adams to furnish the explosives used in the construction of the Hoosic Tunnel that moved the railroad from the east to the gateway of the west. His expertise in the manufacture of nitroglycerin and anything related to nitration was what landed him a position as chief chemist with Zylonite. There were also a number of other important men in the history of American Zylonite including J.G. Jarvis, who had started his career in plastics with John W. Hyatt and J.B. Edson, who also left the Celluloid Company to work in the Adams firm.
The area surrounding the Zylonite factories was eventually developed for the employees and their families, expanding to include a school, church, post office, rail station, and fire department; the village itself was called Zylonite.
American Zylonite pocket notebook advertising waterproof collars and cuffs. The names Hanover and London clearly associate the product with their English roots, the Xylonite Company. American Zylonite operated under license of the British firm from 1881 - 1890. Cuff and collar production began in 1884.
In the mid 1880s, American Zylonite began to experience financial difficulties due to an unfortunate series of events. Patent litigation over the court battle between Englishman Daniel Spill of Xylonite vs. John W. Hyatt of Celluloid caused the North Adams firm to lose over one million dollars.
By the end of 1890, American Zylonite was in such serious financial difficulty that the Celluloid Company of Newark, New Jersey, bought the facility for $950,000. Abruptly on January 1, 1891, the factory was unexpectedly closed leaving more than 525 workers unemployed overnight.
To make matters worse, the Celluloid Company moved in and completely cleaned the place out, destroying much of the old machinery, while salvaging the best for their plant in Newark. Devastated workers were forced to uproot their families and seek employment elsewhere. The local paper referred to the Celluloid Co. as the soulless Newark concern.
The zylonite stock in work, which would have included a wide variety of finished articles, was also packed up and taken to Newark where it was incorporated into the current stock of the Celluloid Company.
1. According to the book Albany, Capital City on the Hudson, 12,000 elephants were slaughtered annually for the intent of making ivory pool balls from their tusks. Ivory was indeed an expensive commodity, for not only was it becoming scarce, it was reported that for every two elephants killed, one man lost his life.
2. During the early 1860s, English billiards master Michael Phelan wrote in his book Game of Billiards, âœif any inventive genius could discover a substitute for ivory, he would make a handsome fortune for himself.â
3. It was the American Billiards Industry that added incentive to the search for an ivory substitute by offering the impressive prize of $10,000. Unfortunately, there is no documented evidence to support that Hyatt ever received the promised reward money for his invention of celluloid.
4. Est.1866 â“ The Hyatt Billiard Ball Co. by Hyatt and Kinnear; renamed the Albany Billiard Ball Company and re-established in a small factory at Grand and Plain Streets in Albany's south end in 1868. It remained at that location until after WWI when the factory was moved to 408 Delaware Ave.
5. On June 15, 1869, Hyatt was granted yet another patent for one of his inventions; Improvement In The Manufacture of Dominos, Pat. # 91,235.
6. The Hyatt Mfg. Co. grew at a steady pace and as checker production increased, the enterprise split into two divisions: the Hyatt Mfg. Co., which relocated to a factory on Beaver St. in Albany, where John (still employed as a printer) acted as superintendent overseeing the production of base materials for the game pieces; and the Embossing Co., which was located at 4 and 6 Pruyn St. with 28-year-old brother Charles acting as president.
7. By 1871 the Embossing Co. was firmly established as a reputable manufacturer of boxed dominoes and checkers. As the company expanded its line of merchandise to include educational toys and games, they outgrew the original locations and moved to 23 Church and 58 Liberty St. in Albany. By 1884 the Embossing Company of Albany became one of the nation's most successful game producing business. The Embossing Company was bought out by Halsam in 1957.
8. Collodion was a liquid pyroxylin solution, cellulose nitrate, ether, and ethyl alcohol, which was discovered by Boston chemist Waldo Maynard in 1847. It was used extensively in early photography and also by the medical profession as a type of invisible bandage.
9. In addition to the fact that the balls were extremely flammable, other problems were also associated with the use of collodion coating: a thin paper-like "artificial skin" formed on the balls as the liquid collodion evaporated, and dirt quickly adhered to the surface of the balls when they were used.
10. Hyatt's invention quickly became the most successful alternative to ivory in billiard ball manufacture in spite of the early problems associated with them. The introduction of Hyatt's Improved Billiard Ball (a cast Celluloid composition) in 1875 put an end to the shortage of expensive ivory balls.
11. The social significance of Hyatt's invention is worthy of mention; it bridged the gap between the wealthy elite who played the sport of billiards in their upper class parlors and private clubs, making the game accessible to the middle and working classes as they patronized saloons and pool halls that offered the game as a novel recreation.
12. Englishman Alexander Parkes invented and patented Parkesine in 1861. It was a moldable pyroxylin plastic that employed the use of various oils and solvents, including camphor.
13. Parkesine was first introduced to the public at the London International Exhibit of 1862 where it was awarded a bronze medal for Excellence of Product.
14. Parkesine could be made transparent or opaque and was used as an imitation ivory material. It was flexible and waterproof, a suitable replacement for expensive coral, tortoise, and ivory in hair combs, buttons, jewelry, medallions, and a host of other utilitarian and ornamental applications.
15. In an attempt to supply consumers with an economical replacement for traditional materials, Parkes sought to reduce the cost of Parkesine by using the cheapest raw materials he could find, lowering the cost from $16.00 per pound to 12¢ per pound by the mid 1860s. Unfortunately, this was Parkes' downfall; the result was an inferior plastic material that was doomed to fail, and by 1869, production of Parkesine halted.
16. Seeley had firsthand experience with collodion; during the Civil War he worked for the U.S. government making the solution for medical use. In addition, Seeley had even been issued a patent for its improvement in 1868. (US Pat.#79,261, Improvement In Solidified Collodion).
17. Source: Society of Chemical Industry, Perkin Medal Acceptance Speech, J.W. Hyatt, May 1914.
18. In those days much controversy surrounded the use of hardened rubber in dentistry, thanks to the work of the Goodyear Dental Vulcanite Company. Rubber and gutta percha had been used quite successfully for denture base materials since the early 1850s; however in 1864 Dr. John A. Cummings was issued a patent for the complete process of making rubber dentures. He sold his patent to the G.D.V. Co., which in turn required that all dentists using Vulcanite in the manufacture of dentures be licensed by the company, paying a yearly fee amounting to anywhere between $25.00 and $100.00. In addition, a second fee was required for each denture that was formed, the amount determined by the number of teeth set into each plate. Nevertheless, about 5,000 dentists purchased licenses from GDVC, as they were skilled in working with rubber prior to Dr. Cummings' patent. Some however, reverted to using gold as a denture base material while still others sought out new substances to replace Vulcanite.
19. It was from 1870 through 1873 that denture plate production was the primary use for Hyatt's pyroxylin plastic material. Later when the Celluloid Mfg. Co. of Newark, NJ was established, SS White became the first official licensee of the firm. However, during the first several years of production, there were serious problems associated with the use of celluloid. Unfortunately, dental plates made from the material often discolored, frequently warped and lost teeth, absorbed odors, and tasted offensive when hot food or liquid came into contact with them. This was in part due to a lack of experience by dentists who molded the Celluloid blanks into a fitted denture, and partly due to the fact that celluloid was in its early stages of development. Over time however, the material was perfected and by the late 1870s, dentists had become skilled in producing quality celluloid dentures at a fraction of the cost of alternative materials such as gold and hardened rubber.
20. Marshall Lefferts of NYC was not only the chief financial backer of the Celluloid Mfg. Company, he was also actively involved in the business. He filled the offices of both secretary/treasurer and president and was also instrumental in developing several methods for manufacturing celluloid articles. Working closely with Hyatt, Lefferts applied himself to the field of pyroxylin plastic, eventually receiving 10 patents regarding the production of Celluloid finished goods.
21. At the time, water was held in large tanks to which various coagulants were added and agitated. The water had to stand for up to 24 hours as the impurities settled to the bottom before it could be used. The Hyatts conceived the idea of adding coagulants to water, then filtering out the impurities as the water made its way to the factory through various supply pipes. The patented their unique filtering process in 1884.
22. Daniel Spill, born in 1832, was the son of a Unitarian minister and the brother of George Spill who had a waterproofing business. The traditional method of treating cloth with rubber had been employed by the Spills; however, during the mid 1860s, when Parkesine was introduced as the new wonder material, the Spills had an interest in it as a waterproofing agent. Daniel convinced Parkes to join forces, but instead of developing a product for the waterproofing business, Spill became the managing director of the Parkesine Co.
23. It should be understood that the formula for Parkes' earliest plastic products was considerably different from that manufactured at the Parkesine Works in Hackney Wick, London. Because the earliest articles of Parkesine were made with purified ingredients, the quality was much better. Parkes' attempt to produce the substance at a fraction of the cost is what doomed his product to failure.
24. The word celluloid was a contraction for cellulose and colloid, or as others state, cellulose and oid, a Greek word meaning "like".
25. The history of American Zylonite begins on page 21.
26. It was also in 1883 that the Celluloid Company forced Crolithion Collar and Cuff Company of Maine, a small waterproof linen manufacturer, out of business following patent litigation.
27. Camphor was an essential ingredient used in making celluloid and most of it came from the forests of Formosa. The Japanese realized the importance of this export substance and by 1899 had secured an imperial monopoly on their camphor. The price was drastically raised, which prompted many attempts to secure alternative supplies. The Celluloid Company purchased thousands of acres in Florida to plant camphor trees. However the thrip, an insect which loved to feast on camphor tree leaves, infested the plantation and doomed the attempt at producing American camphor.
28. Arlington Company had an office in Canada, of which John Chantler of Toronto was the head. In 1916, Chantler convinced DuPont to purchase the Toronto collar and cuff manufacturing company of A.B. Mitchell. After the acquisition, the organization was called the Arlington Co. of Canada.
29. About 5,000 acres of trees were planted in an effort to offset the Japanese monopoly in the camphor trade. The camphor trees began to flourish until they were attacked by leaf-eating insects called thrips. The pests doomed the efforts of Arlington to supply their own camphor and in 1921 the plantation was abandoned.
30. At an earlier date the Arlington Co. had obtained an interest in the White Springs Paper Co. of Nutley, New Jersey.
31. Jarvis had worked with John Hyatt in the manufacture of celluloid, and by the time he came to work for Viscoloid, he had 30 years experience in the pyroxylin plastics industry.
32. There is currently no evidence to cite which proves that the Lignoid Co. became the Solid Fiber Co. Robert Friedel in his book Pioneer Plastic, speaks of the Lignoid Fancy Article Mfg. and their move to Newburyport and further stated that the same became known as the Fiberloid Company.
33. Earlier Daniel Spill had brought a suit against John W. Hyatt for patent infringement concerning the formulation of his pyroxylin plastic, the case was finally decided by Judge Blatchford in favor of Spill in 1880. This decision gave Spill the opportunity to sell his patents to L.L. Brown for the formulation of American Zylonite. Later, in 1884, Blatchford reversed his decision; this reversal was the chief cause of Zylonite's eventual failure. Adding to the situation was the bankruptcy of the New York bank that held Zylonite's assets.
34. In 1884 when Judge Blatchford reversed his earlier decision concerning the Spill vs Hyatt case, the company suffered financially, eventually losing over one million dollars in patent litigation. Coupled with a New York bank failure, the American Zylonite Company was doomed.
35. At the time that American Zylonite Co. was closed, the Arlington Company was experiencing manufacturing difficulties. The company hired a good many experienced supervisors and workers for employment in their New Jersey facility.