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Alexander Parkes, inventor of the first synthetic plastic, 1848.

Alexander Parkes, inventor of the first synthetic plastic, 1848.
4 0 c m
actual image size: 25cm x 32cm


Portrait painted from a pencil drawing by Abraham Wivell (1786- 1849). Alexander Parkes (1813-1890) was born in Birmingham, West Midlands, and was apprenticed to a brass founders before joining Elkington, Mason & Co as manager of a casting department. A prolific inventor, Parkes took out 46 patents during his career, most of them relating to electroplating processes. He also produced the first man-made plastic, which he patented in 1855. It was an organic material derived from cellulose that, once heated, could be moulded, but when cooled would retain its shape. He called the material 'Parkesine' and exhibited it at the Great International Exhibition in London in 1862. In 1866 he established the Parkesine Company in London, laying the foundations of the plastics industry.

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