Alexander Parkes

A metallurgist and inventor from Birmingham, England; he created Parkesine, the first man-made plastic.

Alexander Parkes (29 December 1813 – 29 June 1890) was a metallurgist and inventor from Birmingham, England. He created Parkesine, the first man-made plastic.

In total Parkes held at least 66 patents on processes and products, mostly related to electroplating and to the development of plastics.

  • In 1846. he patented the cold cure process for vulcanizing rubber, called by Thomas Hancock "one of the most valuable and extraordinary discoveries of the age".
  • He pioneered the addition of small quantities of phosphorus to metals and alloys, and developed phosphor-bronze (patent 12325 of 1848, taken out jointly with his brother Henry Parkes).
  • In 1850, he developed and patented the Parkes process for economically desilvering lead, also patenting refinements to the process in 1851 and 1852.
  • In 1856, he patented Parkesine – the first thermoplastic – celluloid based on nitrocellulose treated with a variety of solvents. This material, exhibited at the 1862 London International Exhibition, anticipated many of the modern aesthetic and utility uses of plastics.
  • In 1866, he set up The Parkesine Company at Hackney Wick, London, for bulk low-cost production. It was not commercially successful, however, Parkesine was expensive to produce, prone to cracking, and highly flammable. The business closed in 1868.
  • Parkes' material was developed later in improved form as Xylonite by his associate Daniel spill, who brought a patent infringement lawsuit – ultimately unsuccessful – against John Wesley Hyatt, developer of celluloid in the US. In 1870, however, the judge ruled that Parkes was the true inventor, owing to his original experiments.
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