Celluloid, as a new material in the arts, dates back to about the year 1869. It is a hard, durable substance, almost entirely unaffected by acids or alkalies, unchangeable under ordinary atmospheric conditions, tough as whalebone, elastic and dense as ivory.
Its capacity of being rendered plastic by heat renders it capable of being molded into any desired form. Being nearly colorless in its natural state, it may be readily colored, by a slight addition of pigment, to any desired shade. Possessing these properties, it is at once apparent that this material has an important future before it. The uses to which it is applied are numerous and constantly increasing. It is very largely used for jewelry. Perfect imitations of tortoiseshell, agate, coral, amber, malachite, and other materials are produced which defy detection and are much stronger than these expensive materials. As a substitute for ivory, it is largely employed in the manufacture of billiard balls, knife and fork handles, combs, and backs of brushes and mirrors, also for piano and organ keys, in all of which capacities it is superior to ivory, as it will not turn yellow or split. A large number of fancy articles, such as chessmen, thimbles, buttonhooks, umbrella and parasol handles, paper knives, baby rattles, dolls’ heads, pocket rules, card receivers, etc., are also made from it. Thus, as petroleum came to the relief of the whale, has celluloid given the elephant, the tortoise, and the coral insect a respite in their native haunts, and it will no longer be necessary to ransack the earth in pursuit of substances which are constantly growing scarcer. In fact, like the fabled Proteus, celluloid appears in a thousand forms, and in all it is alike beautiful, strong, and durable.
Celluloid Manufacturing Co., from a marketing pamphlet. In 1863, attracted by a New York billiard company’s $10,000 reward for the discovery of an ivory substitute, John Wesley Hyatt, a printer, applied heat and pressure to camphor, thereby inventing the first commercially successful plastic. After securing a patent, he formed the Albany Dental Plate Company in 1870. The company later expanded its product line, relocated to Newark, and was renamed the Celluloid Manufacturing Company.
Back to Issue