This 10-minute 1945 filmstrip, sponsored by General Electric, shows children confused by a new material that is not from the animal, vegetable or mineral kingdom. One child's father explains that it's from the "fourth kingdom," of plastics, then describes how plastic compounds and resins are made, and speculates on plastic's place in "the dream of the future."
The Kingdom of Plastics (1945)
BOY#1: I haven’t got it.
GIRL #1: I haven’t got it.
BOY#2: Neither have I.
BOY #1: Let’s play another game. I know what we’ll play!
BOY #1: Let’s play a guessing game!
BOY#2: That’ll be swell!
GIRL#2: How do you play it?
BOY#2: Well, in this game you’ve got to have a blindfold.
GIRL#2: Oh I know! Daddy! Daddy, can I have your handkerchief, huh, please?
FATHER: Why sure!
GIRL#2: Tie it around my head too, will you?
FATHER: I’ll bet I can guess what you’re getting ready to do.
GIRL#2: Oh, I bet you can’t.
FATHER: Well, just give me one guess.
FATHER: You’re getting ready to play blind man’s bluff.
GIRL#2: That’s not it! This is a guessing game!
FATHER: And you’re going to be the one that does the guessing.
GIRL#2: That’s right!
FATHER: Okay. There you are!
GIRL#2: Thank you!
FATHER: There we go.
BOY #1: Are you real sure you can’t see anything?
GIRL#2: Of course not, silly!
BOY #1:All right, now start guessing. Heavy, heavy hangs over thy head. Go on, guess!
GIRL#2: Does it belong to the animal kingdom?
BOY #1: No
GIRL#2: The vegetable kingdom?
BOY #1: Nope.
GIRL#2: Then it just has to belong to the mineral kingdom!
BOY #1: No, it’s not a mineral either.
GIRL#2: But it just has to be one of them! That’s all there is. There are only three kingdoms: animal, vegetable, and mineral. Let me see! Oh, a thimble! Why, Arthur Simpson, that is too a mineral!
BOY #1: Well, it ain’t iron or tin or anything like that
GIRL#2: Isn’t, Arthur, not ain’t. Anyway, it is too a mineral! Daddy, doesn’t this belong to the mineral kingdom? My daddy knows. He’s an engineer!
FATHER: Well, let’s see! Animal, vegetable, or mineral, I hadn’t thought of that before. Maybe this little thimble belongs to a thimble all of its own. The fourth kingdom: the kingdom of plastics.
Plastics are not new materials. They’re as old as grandfather’s handlebar mustache. Remember the high celluloid collars he used to wear? Well, they were plastic, the beauty of them being they never had to be sent to the laundry. But even though celluloid could be cleaned with a moist handkerchief, granddad soon found out it was a pain in the neck and dangerous. Many modern plastics, however, are fire resistant, one of the numerous improvements science has made in plastic articles.
Plastics come from many different raw materials. Some of the materials are natural elements, like water and air. Some are growing things like corn and potatoes. Others are minerals, such as, oil, coal and limestone. From these various raw materials, chemists derive many different chemicals, which when combined properly will form plastics.
Now, suppose you could look inside one of these chemicals. You would find that like everything else, it is made up of billions of tiny particles called molecules. Molecules are so small, that even with the help of the most powerful microscope, we cannot see them. But let’s suppose they looked like combinations of those building blocks, with which every child is so familiar. By joining blocks together in different combinations, we have different kinds of molecules, each combination forming a pattern, which is characteristic of a different material. Water, for example, has one pattern, salt another, and so on. When scientists start to make a plastic, they select those chemicals that have the patterns they need and mix them. Now, when two different molecules come together in the right way, a very interesting thing happens. Some pieces are attracted to others more than the ones to which they are attached, so they separate, join the ones that attract them, and move off to follow their own devices. Those that are left get together too. This may keep on until there are a whole lot of them linked together like a chain. Millions of these chains are formed in the chemical mixture, and because the molecules are different than from the one with which the plastic chemist started, a new material is born.
The new material actually looks like this. It’s called a resin, and in each particle of it, there are millions of those tiny molecules. In making a plastic article, a resin is heated and molded in something like a waffle iron. After pressing and heating in the mold, the resin is allowed to cool. Of course, if a waffle iron were used, you’d get a plastic waffle. If the waffle were made from a resin, in which the molecules were linked together like a chain, it could be softened again, and then put into another mold to make it into another shape. And there you are: a different shaped waffle from the same material. But scientists discovered something else. If they used a type of resin, in which chains of molecules became linked with one another like this, they got a different kind of plastic. With more and more heat, more and more links appeared between the chains. These acted as braces or triodes, making the chains rigid and inseparable. You can’t soften and re-mold anything made from this kind of resin. Once it is set, it is set for good. This is called a thermosetting plastic, like your telephone receiver or an ashtray, for example. Heat won’t affect it. Frequently in making plastic articles, a material called filler is mixed with the resin. This filler may be chopped rags, walnut shells, or one of many things. The filler makes the molded product much stronger. The desired qualities of the product, of course, determine the kind of resin that should be used. From the resin in which molecules are in separate chains, a number of beautiful and useful things are made, some bright with color, some crystal clear. And from the resin in which the chains of molecules are rigidly linked together, comes those articles which need greater strength, and are likely to be subjected to heat. Pressed between sheets of paper, cloth, or wood, this type of plastic makes the gears that turn the wheels in factories and in automobiles, or such household articles, as cigarette proof tabletops.
It was indeed lucky for us that the men of plastics had labored so long and well, for suddenly we found ourselves at war. Faced with a critical metal shortage and unprecedented production demands, armament manufacturers immediately turned to plastics for assistance, and the kingdom of plastics responded with remarkable speed and ingenuity. Pressed in new molds, plastics took on countless new shapes and sizes, providing a wide variety of essential parts for every type of military equipment. On a 75-millimeter gun there are a number of plastic parts, dozens are used in a modern tank, several hundred to fly in some of our fighting eagles, thousands of pieces of plastic equipment to sail in each ship of the line. Equipment ranging from mortar fuses to ship telephones, from antenna housing to switch gear, produced with greater speed and economy, but bringing new strength and efficiency to almost every allied weapon. But out of the flames of battle, the promise of a new day.
Plastics take their rightful place in a world at peace, a world dedicated to a richer, fuller life for all. In transportation, plastics play a role of ever increasing importance, lending their unique qualities to body construction, and more and more of the mechanical parts. Certainly, there will be more lightweight accessories, more handsome trim and interior refinements in tomorrow’s cars, trains, and planes. The future will bring plastic fabrics wonderfully refined, yet resistant to wear, wrinkles, and stains, even the hazards of washing. Shoes more glamorous than Cinderella’s. But that’s not all! There will be furniture combining strength with lightness, comfort with eye appeal, homes throughout will be bright with color, economically, but beautifully appointed, with many contributions of the kingdom of plastics designed for practical, gracious living. Yes, this is a dream of the future, yet out of such dreams has come all that we call progress. So in the years ahead, dreams like this and many more will become realities.