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Despite its persistent modernity, plastic is one of our older technological innovations, a product of the 19th century. Experimentation with semisynthetic plastics in 1870 led to the creation by John Wesley Hyatt of a relatively stable and durable cellulose nitrate plastic, commonly known as celluloid after its most famous trade name. For more than a century, since the invention of the phenol formaldehyde resin bakelite by Leo Baekeland in 1907, synthetic plastics have taken pride of place in a growing array of products. The plastics collection includes books, periodicals, manuscripts, and over 2,500 plastic objects produced from the late-19th century to the present day that represent facets of the development of the plastics industry. The collection also includes papers related to individual plastic innovators and to companies, both exceptional and representative of developments in plastics production, design, and marketing.

Researchers of plastics might also be interested in our collections in the area of Architecture and Industrial Design.

Digitized Materials

  • The Plastics Artifacts Collection has been photographed and digital photos of over 2,500 objects and accompanying metadata are available online.

Audio and Visual Materials

Many of the plastics collections include audio and visual material, including 35mm slides of products and processes. In particular, see:

Rare Books and Printed Materials

The Syracuse University Libraries have almost 2,000 titles related to the subject of plastics. About 180 of these are housed in the Special Collections Research Center. These items include early publications about plastics, limited editions of company reports, histories ad product catalogues, hard to find contemporary exhibition catalogues, and historic plastics periodicals.

Useful search terms to locate these items in the catalog include "plastics industry and trade," "celluloid," "bakelite," "plastics in building," "nylon," "polyethylene," "polypropylene," and "plastics - design and construction."

When searching the catalog, set a search limit to "Special Collections" to find materials located in the SCRC.

Search the Classic Catalog.

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