From the start, plastic has played an important role in fashion – first as an imitative replacement material, and then in its own right, recognized for its special qualities. Celluloid, patented by John Wesley Hyatt in 1870 was most often employed as a replacement material for precious ivory and tortoiseshell, but also for cheaper materials such a wood, cardboard and paper. In the 1880's celluloid became an increasingly common and often preferred material for men’s detachable shirt cuffs and collars when the waterproof collar replaced traditional linen.
Plastic consumer products often offer a window onto American history and culture. Among the most striking and, for many, objectionable, objects in the Syracuse University Plastics Collection is a set of polystyrene Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose Salt and Pepper Shakers, first manufactured in 1949 by Fiedler & Fiedler (F & F) Mold and Die Works Company of Dayton, Ohio for the Quaker Oats Company. These and other immensely popular premiums perpetuated racial stereotypes, and are representative of the everyday racism pervasive in America for much of the 20th century.
All types of household knickknacks were produced from the very beginning of plastics production, but these were more decorative than functional. It wasn't until the invention of the strong Bakelite washing machine agitator that plastic made an impact on heavy household appliances. Next came refrigerator liners and vacuum cleaner covers, and now we can't imagine a house or office without plastic appliances.
Mario Maccaferri (1900-1993) and his custom molding company Mastro Plastics Corporation, founded by Maccaferr i in association with his French American Reeds Manufacturing Company, introduced the first Maccaferri plastic guitar, made of Dow Styron (polystyrene) in 1953. Production continued until 1964.
A century ago realistic blow-molded cellulose nitrate toys were mass produced with realistic details and in large quantities - but they were fragile and flammable! The development of durable and easily-moldable plastics and the metal shortage of the 1940s triggered the plastic toy revolution of the post-World War II years, when deprived of the military market, producers shifted production to consumer goods. The baby boom provided millions of children as potential customers accessible through the new medium of television advertising.
Plastic Hall of Famer member Irvin I. Rubin molded thousands of different objects in his long career. One of his earliest creations was a small fruit slicer that continued to be used in Rubin's home for more than fifty years before he donated it to the Plastics Collection at Syracuse University. Robinson Plastics Company was a family-operated injection molding company located in New York. Founded by Rubin's uncle, Sol M. Robinson, an importer of lampshades and lamp parts, the company expanded to plastics production just prior to the Second World War, when Robinson Plastics made the switch to plastic molding of lamp parts. Irvin I. Rubin developed Robinson Plastics into successful and innovative custom molder.
The Hellerware system of stacking dishes, designed by Massimo Vignelli, was initially named Max I and manufactured by Aricoli Plastici Electrici of Colono Monzese, Italy, a company then involved in the production of melamine formaldehyde (often shorted to melamine or MF) Mickey Mouse ashtrays. Hellerware is now an icon of 1960s design, and is still produced. The Plastics Collection at the Syracuse University Library has a large selection of Hellware pieces and Hellerware can be found at the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York.
The Syracuse University Plastics Collection has two automobile license plates made out of soybean-based fiberboard, an early instance of the use of renewable materials to make a "natural" plastic.
An elegant tabletop electric pencil sharpener, designed by Robert Fleming and patented and produced by the Bert M. Morris Company in Los Angeles, California, allows some insight into the changing Amercian workplace, but also changing American tastes and styles in industrial design. The Morrisharp Electric Pencil Sharpener is a fine example of modern streamline design for everyday use.