Meet the Alexander Parkes: The Inventor of the first thermoplastic

Today is National Inventors day so we thought we’d look and one of our favourite inventors: Alexander Parkes, the inventor of the first thermoplastic. He was known as a world-class metallurgist and chemist yet he had no formal training in these industries.

In 1862 Parkes, invented and patented Parkensine, the world’s first celluloid thermoplastic. This semi-synthetic thermoplastic material is based on nitrate. It can be chemically modified into a hard, soft, or rubber-like plastic.

His invention was never in itself successful but it is widely credited as paving the way for the plastics industry as we know it today.

Parkes’ Other Inventions

He is also credited with inventing the Parkes Process, a patented process where zinc and lead are melted together. The molten form of this compound reacts and forms compounds with any silver of gold in the lead. The zinc compounds can then be easily removed from the coolest crust of the cooled lead.

In his 76 year life, he patented 66 products and processes around electroplating and plastics development. Another notable achievement is his discovery of the process for the cold vulcanization process. This process can waterproof fabrics with a solution made from rubber and carbon disulphide.

Because of this work, he was inducted to the American Plastics Academy’s Hall of Fame in September 2005. He was married twice with 17 kids between both marriages.

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