Celluloid: The First Plastic

June 1, 2010 – June 13, 2013

National Museum of American History
14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC

Artifact Walls near the Constitution Ave. Entrance Floor Plan

This case examines celluloid, the world's first commercially successful plastic, which was invented by John Wesley Hyatt in 1869. Initially made to imitate natural materials, celluloid was mainly used to manufacture inexpensive yet stylish goods -- ranging from beauty accessories and housewares to postcards and advertising keepsakes -- proving that inexpensive but durable products could be made from plastic. Though celluloid was no longer a popular material by the 1940s, it remains the primary material for Ping-Pong balls.