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Fall exhibition at SU Library: 'Just One Word: Plastics'

August 26, 2011

Pamela Whiteley McLaughlin
(315) 443-9788

The opening and reception for Syracuse University Library’s fall exhibition, “Just One Word: Plastics” will be held in the Special Collections Research Center Gallery, sixth floor, Bird Library on Thursday, Sept. 15, from 5-7 p.m. The exhibit will run from Sept. 12-Jan. 20, 2012.

plasticFor more than a century, plastics have transformed our lives—from bathroom to battlefield; from supermarket to spacecraft. Begun as a 19th-century replacement material for billiard balls and piano keys, plastics spurred 20th century developments in industry, transportation, medicine, entertainment and other aspects of contemporary life. The original objects of “Just One Word: Plastics” represent a material history of the modern world.

This exhibition features a representative sample of the Plastics Collection at the Syracuse University Library and presents an overview of major trends in the development of plastics in everyday life. The exhibit focuses on personal and household objects rather than the wide use of plastics in industry. Approximately 250 objects divided into 12 categories will be on view. In addition, a small selection of manuscripts and printed materials will be included.

Specific objects to be featured in the exhibition are:

  • ornate celluloid combs and a wide variety of plastic toiletries; 
  • phenolic (Bakelite) objects from the 1920s and 1930s, including jewelry, radios, and other appliances and games;
  • musical instruments;
  • post-war toys, dishes and household items; 
  • original patent books of John Wesley Hyatt, inventor of Celluloid; 
  • product catalogues from the 1930s and 1950s for popular items such as DuPont French Ivory dresser sets, Boltaware molded “stoneware” dishes, and Tupperware; 
  • the Pleur-evac, a revolutionary plastic medical device for draining fluid and maintaining pressure in the lungs that helped save the life of President Ronald Reagan.

The Plastics Collection was begun in 2007 as a joint project of the Syracuse University Library and the Plastics History & Artifacts Committee of the Plastics Pioneers Association. The collection expanded dramatically when the National Plastics Center and Museum in Leominster, Mass., closed and transferred its artifacts, books and manuscripts to SU’s care in 2008.

Ongoing funding support for the collection and this exhibit has been provided by SU alumnus Harry Greenwald ’51 and the Greenwald-Haupt Charitable Foundation, and by the Plastics History & Artifacts Committee, under the leadership of Glenn Beall.

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