celluloid

celluloid

[sel-yuh-loid]
celluloid [from cellulose], transparent, colorless synthetic plastic made by treating cellulose nitrate with camphor and alcohol. Celluloid was the first important synthetic plastic and was widely used as a substitute for more expensive substances, such as ivory, amber, horn, and tortoiseshell. It is highly flammable and has been largely superseded by newer plastics with more desirable properties. It has been used for combs, brush handles, billiard balls, knife handles, buttons, and other useful objects.

Name for the first synthetic plastic material, developed in 1869. Made of a colloid of cellulose nitrate (nitrocellulose) plasticized with camphor, it is tough, cheap to produce, and resistant to water, oils, and dilute acids. It found a great variety of uses in combs, films, toys, and many other mass-produced consumer goods. Though it has been replaced in many uses by nonflammable synthetic polymers (originally cellulose acetate and Bakelite, then a host of others), it is still manufactured and used.

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Celluloid is the name of a class of compounds created from nitrocellulose and camphor, plus dyes and other agents. Generally regarded to be the first thermoplastic, it was first created as Parkesine in 1856 and as Xylonite in 1869 before being registered as Celluloid in 1870. Celluloid is easily molded and shaped, and it was first widely used as an ivory replacement. Celluloid is highly flammable and also easily decomposes, and is no longer widely used. Its most common uses today are the table tennis ball and guitar picks.

Nitrocellulose

Nitrocellulose-based plastics slightly predate celluloid: collodion, invented in 1848 and used as a wound dressing and emulsion for photographic plates, dried to a celluloid-like film.

Alexander Parkes

The first celluloid as a bulk material for forming objects was made in 1856 in Birmingham, England, by Alexander Parkes, who was never able to see his invention reach full fruition. Parkes patented his discovery after realising that a solid residue remained after evaporation of the solvent from photographic collodion, he described it as a "hard, horny elastic and waterproof substance".

Parkes patented it as a clothing waterproof for woven fabrics in the same year. Later in 1862, Parkes showcased Parkesine at the Great Exhibition in London where he was awarded a bronze medal for his efforts. Cellulose nitrate was dissolved in a small measure of solvent, this was then heated and rolled on a purpose built machine which extracted a proportion of the solvent. Finally, the use of pressure or dyes completed the manufacturing process. In 1866, Parkes tried again with his invention and he created a company to manufacture and market Parkesine but this failed in 1868 after trying to cut costs to enable further manufacture.

Daniel Spill

One year after Parkesine failed, Englishman Daniel Spill created the Xylonite Company, to design and market a similar product to Parkesine. This failed and in 1874 Spill went bankrupt. Spill then reorganized and set up the Daniel Spill Company to continue production. He later pursued the Hyatt brothers over their patenting of celluloid.

John Wesley and Isaiah Hyatt

In the 1860s, an American by the name of John Wesley Hyatt began experimenting with cellulose nitrate, with the intention of manufacturing billiard balls, which until that time were made from ivory. He used cloth, ivory dust, and shellac and in 1869 patented a method of covering billiard balls with the important addition of collodion, and formed the Albany Billiard Ball Company in Albany, New York to manufacture the product. In 1870, John, and his brother Isaiah, patented a process of making a "horn-like material" with the inclusion of cellulose nitrate and camphor. Alexander Parkes and Spill listed camphor during their earlier experiments, but it was the Hyatt brothers who recognized the value of camphor and its use as a plasticizer for cellulose nitrate. Isaiah coined the commercially viable material “celluloid” in 1872 as a specifically Hyatt product.

English inventor Daniel Spill took exception to the Hyatt's claim and pursued the brothers in a number of court cases between 1877 and 1884. The outcome was that Spill held no claim to the Hyatts' patents and that the true inventor of celluloid was in fact Alexander Parkes, due to his mentioning of camphor in his earlier experiments and patents. The judge ruled that all manufacturing of celluloid could continue, including the Hyatts' Celluloid Manufacturing Company. Celluloid was later used as the base for photographic film.

The name Celluloid actually began as a trademark of the Celluloid Manufacturing Company first of Albany, NY, and later of Newark, New Jersey, which manufactured the celluloids patented by John Wesley Hyatt. Hyatt used heat and pressure to simplify the manufacture of these compounds. The name was registered in 1870, but after a long court battle between Spill and the Hyatt brothers a judge later ruled that the true inventor of celluloid (by process, not name) was Alexander Parkes.

Photography

English photographer John Carbutt founded the Keystone Dry Plate Works in 1879 with the intention of producing gelatin dry plates. The Celluloid Manufacturing Company was contracted for this work by means of thinly slicing layers out of celluloid blocks and then removing the slice marks with heated pressure plates. After this, the celluloid strips were coated with a photosensitive gelatin emulsion. It is not certain exactly how long it took for Carbutt to standardize his process, but it occurred no later than 1888. A 15 inch-wide sheet of Carbutt's film was used by William Dickson for the early Edison motion picture experiments on a cylinder drum Kinetograph. However, the celluloid film base produced by this means was still considered too stiff for the needs of motion picture photography.

By 1889, more flexible celluloids for photographic film were developed, and both Hannibal Goodwin and the Eastman Kodak Company obtained patents for a film product (Ansco, which purchased Goodwin's patent when he died, was eventually successful in an infringement suit against Kodak). This ability to produce photographic images on a flexible material (as opposed to a glass or metal plate) was a crucial step toward the advent of motion pictures.

Formulation

A typical formulation of celluloid might contain 70 to 80 parts nitrocellulose, nitrated to 11% nitrogen, 30 parts camphor, 0 to 14 parts dye, 1 to 5 parts ethyl alcohol, plus stabilizers and other agents to increase stability and reduce flammability.

Products still made from celluloid include the table tennis ball, and some musical instrument accessories and parts: guitar picks and pickguards.

See also

External links

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