Specimen of polythene, 1938.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
This piece of polythene is part of the first ton to be produced by ICI in 1938. Succesful large scale production of polythene had been hampered by the difficulties of achieving high temperatures and presures. 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, 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 for uses such as washing up bowls, bottles and dolls.