It was 1860 and Phelan & Collander watched as ivory — the material billiard balls were made from — grew scarce, increasing production costs. They had the idea of organizing a contest. The person who could come up with a material to replace elephant tusks would walk away with no less than $10,000 (a hefty sum at the time). A great prize for a great invention. The winner was John Wesley Hyatt, who presented a new billiard ball made out of nitrocellulose. With the prize money, Hyatt set up his own company and continued to develop his invention.
This was the spark that set the development of the plastic industry in motion. A light, cheap, resistant, and flexible product that allows us to save energy and improve both our quality of life and life expectancy. Let’s have a look at how plastic has impelled the development of medicine, communications, and transportation, services that are indispensable in our daily lives.