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When was the first use of plastic in a car?


keiser31
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All these questions about which company was the first to do this or first to do that...does anyone know for certain when plastic was first used in an automobile? My 1931 Dodge Brothers coupe has ONE piece of plastic in it. It is the divider between the gauges under the glass on the dashboard. Who has plastic in an earlier car??

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All these questions about which company was the first to do this or first to do that...does anyone know for certain when plastic was first used in an automobile? My 1931 Dodge Brothers coupe has ONE piece of plastic in it. It is the divider between the gauges under the glass on the dashboard. Who has plastic in an earlier car??

Bakelite is an early plastic developed in 1907, so my guess is that the first use of plastic in a car goes back much further than 1931 as distributor caps were made of that material for a long time.

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Guest Jim_Edwards

This is going to be a tough one to come up with an accurate answer. As for Bakelite, it came into production in 1922 and is considered an early plastic. However, there were other "plastics" that were cellulose based that were known as Celluloid that far predated Bakelite being developed in the 1800s.

I suspect that most non metallic dash knobs on automobiles before the 1950s were Celluloid. You know the ones that have crumbled or turned a nasty brownish color though having started out as white or ivory. Celluloid does not fair well with UV exposure over a long period of time.

The last automotive use of it to my knowledge was on the '57 and '58 Cadillac Eldorado Broughams on which it was used it to pipe light to indicators on the instrument panel much like the fiber optic materials of today could be used.

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Guest Jim_Edwards
How about side-curtains? The clear portion sure seems to be some sort of clear plastic (probably celluloid).

But then when did side curtains first appear? The term Eising Glass is still common among pleasure boat owners and marine accessory sellers, however I doubt if the material being called Eising Glass today is of the same nature as when first find its way to automobiles.

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Interestingly enough, the original isinglass for side curtains was mineral based, not plastic:

Thin transparent sheets of mica called "isinglass" were used for peepholes in boilers, lanterns, stoves, and kerosene heaters because they were less likely to shatter compared to glass when exposed to extreme temperature gradients. Such peepholes were also used in "isinglass curtains" in horse-drawn carriages[8] and early 20th century cars. A book about a journey in a Model T Ford car describes isinglass curtains as follows: "Oiled canvas side curtains were put up over the windows for wind, rain, and cold (there were no heaters) and were held in place with rods that fit into the doors and twisting button snaps around the perimeter... 'Isinglass' peepholes in the curtains allowed limited visibility. Isinglass was made of thin sheets of cracked mica."[

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One early plastic used extensively in cars was "Tenite", made by Eastman (Kodak). Their website lists it as first being manufactured in 1932. Eastman refers to it as the "first of the modern thermoplastics". I'm sure that Eastman perfected the plastic as time went on; my 1937 car has a Tenite steering wheel which has decomposed badly, yet the dashboard and door handle knobs are good as new (I don't know if they were Tenite). Possibly that's what's in your car.

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Guest bkazmer

Bakelite certainly is a plastic, but as stated is thermoset. Tenite (brand name of Eastman's) is a cellulosic and is thermoplastic. The inherent stability isn't great and the early stabilizer additives weren't too hot. Flexible PVC was invented between the wars and in use by the 40's, but different applications than the dash. While not the first use, I think the use of plastic dash styling accents takes off just before WWII.

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Being in the piano & organ business, I can testify that celluloid was used in reed organ key tops beginning in the 1860s. It's amazingly durable, as many organ keys still look almost like new 150 years later. The ingredient camphor imparts a distinctive odor when the celluloid is heated, cut or filed; it smells like Vicks Vapo-Rub. I always assumed that side curtain windows and early automobile wind screens (like on my 1913 Metz) were of clear celluloid. It was definitely not mica, as they were too large and flexible.

Phil

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One early use of plastic as a major dash design element (other than gauge lenses) is found

on the '39 Chrysler, here in a Royal.

39_chrysler_royal_interior.jpg

Larger, it's the white on the dash, door escutcheons and window crank knobs.

There's no reference to its composition, but '40 Chryslers had a lot of it, too.

Dow touted their Saran "Seat Covers Of Lustrous Plastic" as early as 1941...

41_caddy_saran_ad-med.jpg

There are likely earlier uses than the '39 Chrysler, but this came to mind and was handy.

TG

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The Saran ad has been in an album for many years, but I think it came out of a 1941 Travel/Holiday or SatEvePost. I did find the ad in a December, 1941, Ohio State Engineer magazine (pg. 4), so I know it's period-

correct for the car. Saran, the material, not the Wrap, was discovered in 1933 and its uses grew rapidly

before and during WWII.

TG

Edit; There's one FS on ebay similar to mine, but it's interesting that the Ohio State mag version uses a different tag line (bottom right corner) noting Dow's defense applications.

Edited by TG57Roadmaster (see edit history)
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Guest bkazmer

Flexible PVC is typically what "leatherette" is - it was invented in 1926, so the Model A would be an early use. The top insert materials I think were not plastic but rather rubber- or bitumen-based.

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Guest Jim_Edwards
I'm thinking Leatherette upholstery in the Model A is an early form of plastic over fabric and wasn't some top material and fender welting Plasticized?

I would suspect that the very earliest of rigid car roofs and possibly even folding tops were a variation of good old fashioned Oil Cloth. Same may also be true with some upholstery.

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The very first use of GRP in car bodies that I know of was in 1953, a few months before the first Corvettes, in the UK when an Englishman used the then-revolutionary materail to build car bodies for old Ford, etc. chassis. I seem to recall an announcement around June 1953. I am sure that Henry Foid had a go at making bodies out of waste straw I think it was in 1940? Vickers-Supermarine made a 'plastic Spitfire' in 1940 because of concerns over imports of Jamaican Baixite cutting off aluminium supplies.

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The very first use of GRP in car bodies that I know of was in 1953, a few months before the first Corvettes, in the UK when an Englishman used the then-revolutionary materail to build car bodies for old Ford, etc. chassis. I seem to recall an announcement around June 1953. I am sure that Henry Ford had a go at making bodies out of waste straw I think it was in 1940? Vickers-Supermarine made a 'plastic Spitfire' in 1940 because of concerns over imports of Jamaican Baixite cutting off aluminium supplies.

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Guest BuickCJ

Jim Edwards and others are on the right track. I worked with a man (who was in his 70's then) back in the early 1970's who claimed his dad invented Celluloid. It is newsprint based with plasticizers added for strength and durability. His dad was involved with making collar stays at that time. Its use expanded as you know to photographic film and even ammunition and eventually other products.

Nitrocellulose or smokeless powder was developed using the DuPont method before the turn of the 19th Century. I worked in that industry for a short time and watched them start with newsprint rolls which were shredded and boiled into a slurry. Then plasticizers were added along with other products.

Keep in mind that none of these products, including our beloved automobiles were intended to last more than a few years at best. Now, for most of us having cars with these parts are approaching 70 to 100 years old.

As most of you know, nitrocellulose films all decomposed and some even self-ignited back in the 1970's which prompted all libraries and other owners of them to convert them other media before they self-destructed.

As we used to hear in an ad years ago, "Time, the great maker of beers is also the great destroyer." That's why I will not display my vehicle in the blazing sun on hot days. You can watch the celluloid parts warp and even melt while the dash and other components fade. Shows should be held at a time of year where the sun's position is not as close to the earth, or at night, in my humble opinion.

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Guest Jim_Edwards
Your friend's Dad must have been mighty old since Celluloid was invented in 1862.

The original process was so flawed it was impractical for production and it wasn't until the 1880s the process was more or less worked out to make it practical for mass production of anything.

It might have been possible the guys Dad was involved with that refinement. As an example, I'm probably one of the few living people that can accurately say their Grandfather was born before the Civil War. My Dad was in his 60s in the 1970s, thus his Father would have been old enough to have been around when Celluloid manufacturing processes were made production practical.

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