Picking up from where we left off in Chapter 1, where we discovered the role played by our favourite material in the turbulent 1940s, a glimpse into the 50s presents a very different story!
Moving away from reconstruction, polyurethane’s role evolved as it became an essential part of the reintroduction of comfort and style back into the lives of those emerging from the Second World War. Polyurethanes were no longer used just to contribute where scarcity loomed, but rather adopted a role in luxury, through presenting affordable and stylish shoes and clothing, as well as home comforts. As if this wasn’t enough, polyurethane also gave a little something to one of the greatest scientific developments in world history: the Space Race!
In the beginning of the decade, 1953 to be precise, shoe soles came to be created with synthetic leather made from polyurethane. So what did this mean? Suddenly shoes became more affordable, using a new material that was lighter and more flexible; in turn, this allowed for new styles of shoes to emerge. But that’s not all: polyurethane spandex fibres developed in the late 1950s equally revolutionised clothing, and the term “fashion” was placed back on the table for discussion after the dark 1940s.
And what about comfort in the home? In 1954 polyurethane foam was introduced in cushions. It may not seem much to us coming from a world of comfort, where we can find polyurethane foam everywhere from our car seats to office chairs, but this revolutionary concept brought luxury into every living room and household, boldly raising living standards across Europe and the US following the difficult 1940s.
Now you cannot write about the 1950s without mentioning the beginnings of the Space Race. Anyone who knows their history knows that out of the Second World War emerged an equally tension-filled conflict: the Cold War. One of the many consequences that emerged from the Cold War was the Space Race, as the US and the USSR competed to reach the finish line first and send their men first into space. Where on earth does polyurethane come into the picture here? Well in 1959 space suits with polyurethane lining were developed by NASA for the Mercury mission, the first ever human space flight from the US! These polyurethane-lined suits allowed ultimate safety for the astronaut’s mission, as the flexible material could be tailor made to fit each individual astronaut perfectly and the light weight material allowed ease of movement in the toughest conditions!
All in all, it was a busy decade for polyurethanes as the material brought living standards away from the dark 1940s and forward in leaps and bounds towards comfort, style and even science! Don’t forget to check out the next “Polyurethane throughout the ages” post to discover what polyurethanes had to offer the 1960s…