Chapter 3 of our walk through history takes us to the swinging 60s. So far we have discovered polyurethanes throughout the 40s and 50’s, so what more could it possibly have to offer in the 1960’s? In a decade remembered for its complex political and cultural clashes across the globe, ranging from the height of the Cold War to the British Invasion, headed by a personal favourite of ours, The Beatles, and free love to flower power, at first glance it’s not entirely clear where polyurethane actually played a role in all of this!
In fact, the sixties represent an important decade for the polyurethane industry as the number of applications expanded dramatically. Growth was especially strong in sectors such as construction, appliances and automotive as polyurethane began to dominate in these industries. By the mid-1960s, the global polyurethane market was about 500 kilotonnes and by the end of the decade, it surpassed one million tonnes!
We had our first man on the moon as the Cold War’s space race reached a new peak! (Remember we talked about polyurethane in space suits last time!)
We had a cultural revolution in the West, which brought with it new fashion of every colour under the sun facilitated by our very own polyurethane material in clothes and shoes.
Western Europe and the US continued to grow as cities became constructed into how we now know them today; this construction was made possible with polyurethane steel sandwich building panels. This fast and formidable growth of one side of the world fuelled the division between East and West during the Cold War, clearly distinguished by the differences between either side of the Berlin Wall!
Plastic fantastic gadgets came into fashion during this time as invention after invention rolled into the consumer market. To name but a few; first it was the pocket sized transistor radio, then the first hand held calculator, the first cassette tape recorder, binoculars, the Trimphone (the nearest thing you could get to a mobile phone in the sixties with its stretchable curly cord which meant you could carry it around parties!), and the introduction of instant photography! Can you say hipster? Many of these inventions- the radio, the household phone, instant photography- all massively contributed to communication and media too! This meant that it was one of the first times that nations could really understand what was going on in the rest of the world; one of the big inspirations of the flower fueled hippy movement which called for the end of the US presence in the Cold War driven Vietnam War.
As society moved further and further away from the dark shadow of the Second World War, so too did their luxuries and comforts. Cars were no longer a luxury item, as they become common place in many homes. This was made possible with the first plastic car in 1967, a rejection of the 1950s styling excess, as the automobile industry grew and began producing cars of different size classes for the first time, making them accessible to all!. Later, in 1969, polyurethane played a new role in the automobile industry again, as bumpers were introduced to cars, improving their safety.
So there you have it, another busy decade for polyurethanes in technology, gadgets, fashion, construction and cars! Don’t forget to read our next “chapters” as we look at polyurethane throughout the ages…