Samples of polyethene and other plastic items, c 1935.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
A selection of plastic items made by J R Myles at ICI, Wallerscote, Durham. 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 as such, the substance was a closely guarded secret. After the war it began to be produced commercially, finding a wide variety of applications which make polythene such a ubiquitous material today.