Fresh art at SFO Airport: Classic Plastics

A great new exhibit – Classic Plastics: 1870s-1970s  – opened this weekend at San Francisco International Airport, courtesy of the SFO Museum.

The exhibit explores the world of man-made plastics, including celluloid and bakelite, which served as substitutes for materials such as tortoiseshell, horn, shellac and ivory.

sFO museum celluloid dolls

Celluloid, the material used to make the dolls above, was patented in 1870 by John Wesley Hyatt, who was trying to find an alternative to ivory for making billiard balls. That material turned out to be highly flammable.

SFO RADIO plastics

Bakelite, the first entirely synthetic plastic, came on the scene about forty years later and, as you know, today pretty much everything is made from the plastics that were invented after that.

Classic Plastics 1870s–1970s is located in the pre-security area of the International Terminal Main Hall Departures Lobby at San Francisco International Airport and will be on view through January 5, 2014.

You can see more great images from the exhibit here.

(All photos courtesy SFO Museum.)



Imagine the excitement generated by the first man-made plastics. These moldable materials served as substitutes for dwindling supplies of natural plastics and precious materials such as tortoiseshell, horn, shellac, ivory, and even silk. Early plastics enabled manufacturers to introduce a host of affordable new products and allowed for tremendous technological advances. American John Wesley Hyatt patented celluloid, a semi-synthetic plastic, in 1870 after trying to find a replacement for ivory billiard balls.

Nearly forty years later, in an attempt to make an alternative electrical insulator to shellac, which derives from lac bug secretions, Belgian-born Leo Baekeland created the first entirely synthetic plastic, Bakelite, in 1907. Scientists continued to invent new types of plastics during World War II, while manufacturers and designers constantly found new uses for it. Early celluloid vanity sets, eyeglasses, jewelry, radios, vinyl records, cameras, handbags, and mid-century furnishings are some of the many important everyday items molded in plastic, which are displayed in the exhibition.

Selected images from the exhibition are available for download at: http://www.flysfo.com/web/page/sfo_museum/about/press_images/exh-plastics.html

Classic Plastics 1870s–1970s is located pre-security in the International Terminal Main Hall Departures Lobby, San Francisco International Airport. The exhibition is on view to all Airport visitors from June 29, 2013 to January 5, 2014. There is no charge to view the exhibition..

– See more at: http://www.flysfo.com/web/page/about/news/pressrel/2013/sf1337.html#sthash.GY6DLw8u.dpuf