Pilot plant for the manufacture of polythene, 1938.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
This reaction vesel, designed in 1936 by W R D Manning and S G Marshall of ICI, was used to produce the first ton of polyethylene at Wallerscote, Durham in 1938. 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. 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.