Chapter 4: 1970’s
Enter the 1970s, the decade in which polyurethanes enriched the lives of people all over the world on so many levels! From health to sports to construction, it was a busy period for polyurethanes as our favourite material continued to grow and grow until its global consumption reached around 1.8 million tonnes by the end of the decade!
While the colourful hippie movement began to want by the early 1970s, the environmentalist movement began to thrive. Thankfully, polyurethane was there to offer the construction industry its much needed green trimmings so it could, in keeping with the times, offer consumers the much demanded greener option. It began in 1970, with the introduction of faux wood panelling in construction and design. The new material not only offered a break for the forests, but it offered consumers an equally beautiful and durable, but cheaper, option. Later, the introduction of spray building insulation brought insulation and its many environmentally friendly outcomes to a whole new level, bringing with it savings upon savings in energy and money!
Polyurethanes in the 1970s also came to be a key player in orthopaedic applications as the material brought traditional uncomfortable designs to a new level of comfort and efficacy! This, however, was only the first step in a long road of medicinal polyurethane applications to come!
The pioneering work of physicians Boretos and Lyman in the early 1970s found blood to be compatible with polyurethane-urea polymers. These elastomer materials have since been widely used for biomedical applications such as the artificial heart, intra-aortic balloons, pacemaker leads, heart valves, and hemodialysis membranes.
You might be surprised to know that roller skates have been around for quite some time. In fact, the first recorded use of roller skates was in a London stage performance in 1743! However, it is undisputable that they have come a very long way since! Though the inventor of the original skate is unknown, we do know that it was in 1973 when thermoplastic polyurethane wheels improved and popularised roller skates so that today we can enjoy roller skating as a recreational activity, a sport, and also a form of transportation (link to alternative transport blog)!
The 1972 Summer Olympics, held in Munich, West Germany, were only the second Summer Olympics to be held in Germany after the 1936 Games in Berlin, which had taken place under the Nazi regime. Mindful of the connection, the West German Government was anxious to take the opportunity of the Munich Olympics to present a new, democratic and prosperous Germany to the world. With this in mind, the Olympic Park was designed by German architect Günther Behnisch and engineer Frei Otto, becoming a landmark of both the games and Munich today. At the heart of the park stood the Olympic Stadium, the scale of which was considered revolutionary at the time. To top this off, polyurethanes were also used for track surfacing at the Olympic Stadium, introduced in the 1970s as the ultimate athletic surface for being weather resistant, abrasion resistant and strong.
In 1977, Polyurethane ‘Forcefin’ flippers were designed, revolutionising underwater activities by improving the diver’s speed and agility. The new design of fins was inspired by observations of nature in the sea, and fish themselves, which have split fins with great manoeuvrability. Polyurethane was selected as the material as choice, as the rigid plastic allowed the necessary “snap and flex” mechanism essential to augment and amplify the movements of the leg and foot.