Humans have been using natural polymers for many centuries without even knowing they were dealing with macromolecules.
Natural polymer products such as egg white, tar, gum arabic were known to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. In combination with metallic elements, these products were used to prepare coating compositions for walls, burial chambers, etc. Hundreds of years ago, the indigenous peoples of South America used “latex”, the milky white sap from the rubber trees, and made rubber balls that were used in Ancient Maya sport.
- In 1839, Charles Goodyear (USA) managed to vulcanize natural rubber, converting it from a sticky and lumpy material into the tire we know today, by heating it with sulphur. Even today, about 70% of all synthetic polymers end up in tires. Until the beginning of the 20th century, little had been done to improve the natural materials (polymers) which were available to mankind. However, the situation quickly changed.
- In 1907 the American-Belgian chemist and inventor Leo Baekeland invented the first synthetic polymer by condensing excess formaldehyde with phenol, which was called (in his honor) “Bakelite”. By molding these ingredients under heat and pressure, a hard, heat-resistant plastic was created.
- In 1926, the German scientist Herman Staundinger proved the existence of macromolecules. A year later, Wallace Carothers (USA), considered by many to be the father of polymer chemistry as his research explained polymerization and enabled the manufacture of many new products, synthesized and characterized alkyd resins for paints.
- In 1947 the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (I.U.P.A.C) organized the first polymer conference in Liège where, since then, polymer chemistry has been established as a separate branch of Chemistry. importance of additives to polymers in order to obtain materials with desirable properties. Polymers are also applied to electronics, photonics, biomedicine, as adhesives and as textile fibers.
In 2003, the global annual production of polymers reached 150-200 million tonnes of products and competes with that of steel.