History of Asbestos and Plastics
Plastic parts have been accessible since the mid-1800s. And before the 1980s, many plastic components contained lethal quantities of asbestos.
Alexander Parkes took credit for inventing the first plastic piece. In 1856, he patented it under the brand name Celluloid. Parkes was trying for a synthetic ivory substitute, but his new plastic process had a big problem. Celluloid was notoriously combustible and quickly exploded in flames.
A chemist named Baekeland refined plastics in 1907 using a thermosetting process. He got the idea of solving the fire issue by adding raw asbestos fibers into the molten mixture before molding phenol-formaldehyde resin.
To his surprise, not only did asbestos make plastic pieces inflammable, but they also lightened and strengthened the parts. Baekeland patented his product as “Bakelite” and called it “the material of a thousand uses.”