Radar component with polythene insulation, mid-late 20th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Polythene (also known as polyethene or polyethylene) was discovered in 1933 as the result of a laboratory accident, by Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett, two scientists working at ICI's research laboratory at Winnington, Durham. The first patents for polythene were registered in 1936, and a year later the first practical use for the material, as a film, was discovered. Polythene was used as an insulating material for radar cables during World War II, and the substance was a closely guarded secret. Due to the high temperatures and presures required for the chemical reaction involved, large-scale manufacture of polythene proved difficult. In 1941 the entire output of the material was used in radar.