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The history of PVC

Man has worked hard from the earliest times to develop synthetic

materials which would offer benefits not found in

the natural products around him.

PVC is one of the oldest synthetic materials with the longest history in
industrial production. Its early history is of multiple and accidental
discovery in different places at different times as well as unsuccessful
quests for commercial application.

Early researchers accidentally discovered PVC on at

least two occasions in the 19th century. The first, in 1838, was by the
French physicist and chemist Henri Victor Regnault and the second in
1872 by the German Eugen Baumann. On both occasions, the polymer
appeared as a white solid inside flasks of the newly discovered vinyl
chloride gas that had been left exposed to sunlight. The material was
difficult to work with and no one mastered the challenge of commercial

In 1913, German inventor Friedrich Heinrich August Klatte took out a

patent on PVC. His method used polymerization of vinyl chloride with
The most significant breakthrough occurred in the United States when the
company BFGoodrich hired the industrial scientist Waldo Semon to
develop a synthetic replacement for the increasingly costly natural rubber.
His experiments again produced polyvinyl chloride. However, the material
was threatened by the recession in the 1920s and it was under threat of
abandonment that Semon conceived the idea of PVC as a water resistant
coating for fabrics. Sales took off quickly with a rapidly expanding product
range. Demand accelerated again during the Second World War, when
PVC quickly replaced traditional material to insulate wiring on military

During the 1950's many more companies started to produce PVC and
volumes increased dramatically around the world. Developers quickly
found further, innovative uses through the decade and refined methods to
enhance durability, opening the door to applications in the building
trades. By the middle of the 20th century, five companies were producing
PVC, and ground-breaking uses for PVC, or ‘vinyl’ as it is also known,
continued to be found during the 1960s. A vinyl-based latex was used on
inflatable structures and fabric coatings, and at the same time, methods
for improving PVC's durability were developed, allowing applications in the
building industry.

PVC products rapidly became essential to the construction industry; the

plastic's resistance to light, chemicals and corrosion made it the best
option for building applications. Improvement made to the materials’
resistance to extreme temperatures, allowed for PVC to be transporting
water to thousands of homes and industries. By the 1980s, twenty
companies were producing PVC. Today, PVC is the third largest-selling
commodity plastic in the world after polyethylene and polypropylene.
PVC's low cost, excellent durability and processability, make it the
material of choice for dozens of industries such as health care,IT,
transport, textiles and construction.