Various objects made of polythene, c 1938-1976.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Polythene (also known as polyethene or polyethylene) was discovered in 1933 by Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett, two scientists working at ICI's research laboratory at Winnington, Durham, as the result of a laboratory accident. 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. After the war it began to be produced commercially and used to make a wide range of products. These objects illustrate the variety of household items in everyday use that are made from polythene.