Artifact Walls - Celluloid: The First Plastic

image of celluloid artifacts

This special case examined celluloid, the world’s first commercially successful plastic, which was invented by John Wesley Hyatt in 1869. In 2006, collectors Dadie and Norman Perlov donated almost 2,000 artifacts made of celluloid to the National Museum of American History. Objects from the Perlov’s donation showcase the diverse uses of this historically important material. Initially made to imitate natural materials, celluloid was mainly used to manufacture inexpensive yet stylish goods, ranging from beauty accessories and home wares to postcards and advertising keepsakes, proving that inexpensive but durable products could be made from plastics. Though celluloid was no longer a popular material by the 1940s, it remains the primary material for Ping-Pong balls.

About the artifact walls

Artifact walls, consisting of 275 linear feet of glass-fronted cases lining the first and second floor center core, highlight the depth and breadth of the collections and convey that the Museum collects, studies and exhibits objects from our nation's rich and diverse history. The display is part of the special cases within the museum’s Artifact Walls that highlight anniversaries, new acquisitions to the collections and research findings.