In the last few months of World War II, the Americans kept talking about how and when the war will end, and how their lives will change. People agree that Germany will soon Will decline. But there are different opinions on how long the Pacific War will last.
But in the geopolitical turmoil, a small group of people chatted with the newspapers about the arrival of another new era. A subtle change is about to change the structure of people's lives: cork is about to lose its dominant position as the cornerstone of consumer manufacturing, replaced by a lesser-known synthetic substance-plastic.
In 1939, the New York World Exposition ushered in the future with the slogan "Tomorrow's World". This market in Queens attracted 44 million visitors in two seasons, and two competitors both claimed to have the most modern industrial materials: cork and plastic.
For decades, cork has been considered the most flexible material; plastic is at best an interesting possibility. Various forms of cork products can be seen everywhere, from international exhibitions in Paris to fairs in Queens. At the fairs in Queens, this material is also embedded in Ford Motors' future plans.
At the same time, the debut of plastics is also very interesting. Tourists saw nylon, plexiglass and transparent synthetic resin for the first time. Exposition souvenirs included colorful plastic (phenolic resin) pencil sharpeners modeled on the iconic triangular minaret in the exposition area. Visitors also picked up celluloid badges and folding knives, as well as Remington electric shavers made of bakelite. There are also plastic ashtrays, pens and coasters.
In the months after the expo, as the United States inevitably joined the war, the government became more and more worried about the United States’ dependence on cork stoppers, because these cork stoppers came entirely from European forests. The US imports of cork stoppers account for nearly half of the world's production.
People in their 50s should remember that there was a cork stopper on the bottle cap to seal the bottle cap. But in 1940, the use of cork was far more than just bottle caps. It is an industrial sealant of choice for automotive windshields, insulation materials, refrigerated containers, engine gaskets and aircraft. In national defense, cork is essential for tanks, trucks, bombers and weapon systems. With the blockade of the Atlantic by the Nazis, the fragility of the supply of this general-purpose item became more and more obvious. The government put the cork under a "quota," that is, restricting its use and giving priority to defense. Information on the supply of cork has also been reviewed.
In October 1941, the U.S. Department of Commerce released a detailed report called "Cork Goes to War." In addition to an overview of the growing industrial use of cork, the report also emphasized Hitler's evil deeds in order to capture European cork production and the need for the United States to make a systematic response.
As part of this systematic response, the United States has carried out intensive research and machine development, both of which have accelerated the development of emerging synthetic industries and filled the gaps in defense pipelines. But some of these synthetic compounds were first developed by American enemies: chemists at Armstrong Cork, a leader in the cork industry, developed new products using German materials. In order to replace those organic products that became expensive due to Hitler’s blockade, many synthetic materials were developed in a frenzied battle. In order to cover research costs and offset rising material costs, Armstrong Cork reduced the carbon paper used by employees. And paper clips and other items; the company’s accountant pointed out that in 1944 the company used 95,000 paper clips a month, but this number has fallen by 40% since the war began.
In 1944, B.H. Weil and Victor Anhorn co-authored a book called "Plastic Horizons", which recorded the future of plastics. There is a chapter in the book titled "Plastic in a World of War". This chapter begins with a hymn of the cost of war. But then the author traced how the war forced science to use it (war requires new lethal objects and life-saving products): physicists turned to research and development of aircraft detection, chemists turned to research and development of explosives, nylon stockings became nylon parachutes. The rubber used in tires has almost disappeared, and people must take emergency measures to replace them with synthetic rubber. The conclusion of this chapter is that "plastics have indeed been thrown into the war."
In a dramatic example, the authors describe how plastic was used to neutralize Germany’s secret weapon: At that time there was a magnetic mine designed to be placed on the seabed, and any ship passing by it would be triggered by the magnetic field around itself. And detonate the mine. To solve this problem, Allied scientists invented a plastic-coated cable that was wrapped around the hull and "demagnetized" the hull, rendering the mines useless (thankfully, thanks to polyvinyl chloride).
The New York Times praised the book and pointed out that the United States is experiencing a chemical revolution.
As explained in the book, early plastics include a wide range of natural or semi-synthetic materials, such as celluloid and synthetic resins that can be molded by heating and pressure.
After the war, chronic shortages of common materials such as rubber, cork, linseed oil and paint forced chemists to scramble to find alternatives, which further accelerated the popularity of plastics. Lucrative bottling innovations—such as the LDPE squeeze bottle introduced by Monsanto in 1945—for the production of soap and shampoo plastic bottles, and “Crowntainer,” Stitched metal cone-top beer cans) paved the way.
There was also a shortage of tinplate for metal bottle caps, and the industry was quickly adapting to finding alternatives. Giles Cooke, an in-house chemist at Crown Cork & Seal, one of the leading manufacturing companies, has been researching synthetic resins for container sealants in the 1940s. In terms of wine bottling, the quality of cork stoppers is still unparalleled. You can taste the difference between cork-stopped bottle wine and plastic-sealed bottle wine. Cook and his colleagues realized that it would take decades for plastic to replace cork as a sealant, so they applied for patents on both silicone film container liners and hydrochloric acid rubber.
Finally, the book "Plastic Horizon" does not fully exploit its theme. Its last chapter does not seem to foresee the ubiquitous plastics we see today, and the terrible waste pollution problems it brings. The author writes: "In the future, plastics will not replace traditional structural materials such as metal, wood, and glass. Plastics will only complement these materials."
"Maybe the plastic age does not exist, but this should not discourage any popularity; over time, the application range of plastics will grow exponentially. Plastic is indeed a material with a wide range of uses. With the help of science, industry will Will continue to increase the production of plastics and improve their performance. Reasonable optimism is the current trend, and a peaceful return will enable the plastics industry to fulfill its promise for the future.
By 1946, our transition to plastic had reached a new stage. That year, New York hosted the National Plastics Expo, exhibiting a series of durable new materials and consumer products for American households for the first time. An observer pointed out that “the public will definitely be fanatical about plastics.”
This is really the world of tomorrow.