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John Wesley Hyatt: Celluloid 1

John Wesley Hyatt

Curriculum vitae
1837 Starkey, New York - 1920, USA

Practically-inclined son of a blacksmith.
At 16 years of age printer's apprenticeship.
Participation in a competition run by the company Phelan & Collender with a $10,000 prize for the invention of a substitute material for ivory billiard balls.

Main Research Focus
Substitute material for natural ivory.

1865: Patent for billiard balls made from compressed material remnants with a coating of shellac and ivory dust. These balls still did not provide any "click".
1867: Improved patent for a collodion-coated billiard ball. On impact these balls unleash a slight explosion. The owner of a saloon in Colorado writes to Hyatt: "It doesn't bother me, but every time the balls collide, all the men in the room draw their revolvers."
1868: Celluloid - the first thermoplastic, a modified natural substance of cellulose nitrate and camphor.

First Products
Palate plates of dentures, dolls, combs, jewellery, cans bowls, knife handles, spectacle frames, fountain pens, shirt collars, sleeves  …
In patent disputes, Hyatt loses the patent protection. The market becomes free.

The molten mass is poured into a mould under heat and pressure. It maintains its form when cooled. The stiff form can be reheated and softened. The mass can be poured again. Celluloid can be produced in the form of lates, tubes, rods, spools and filaments. Hyatt develops the first injection moulding machine and the first blow-moulding equipment. Celluloid can be poured, cut, bent, stamped and sliced. Celluloid offers the eye an almost perfect imitation of ivory, ebony, horn, tortoise shell, mother of pearl, coral ….

The possibilities of Celluloid
Imitation of luxury goods made of natural products with mass-production methods. Commodity, non-luxury items in glowing colours. Photography and film material with an annual turnover of about £80 million in 1900. Celluloid reached its peak in 1930 with the production of 50,000 tonnes per year.

Combs, toothbrushes, table tennis balls…. Celluloid has almost no significance today. PVC has replaced celluloid, despite the fact that those types of brilliant colour effects can still not be achieved by any other plastic.

"No washing necessary…. Just wipe over a couple of times with a damp cloth and collars and sleeves are as good as new" (Advertising slogan)