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John Wesley Hyatt was an American inventor and industrialist known for discovering the process of making the first, cheap, synthetic, plastic material called celluloid. He revolutionized the plastic industry, as almost all of the raw materials used for different products were expensive and came from nature.
See the fact file below for more information on the John Wesley Hyatt or alternatively, you can download our 24-page John Wesley Hyatt worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
HYATT’S EARLY LIFE
- John Wesley Hyatt was born in Starkey, New York, on November 28, 1837. He was the son of John Wesley Hyatt, who was a blacksmith, and Anne Gleason.
- Hyatt attended the Eddystone Seminary for a year but was mostly educated in ordinary schools. He excelled in mathematics during his childhood.
- At sixteen, he moved to Illinois, where he worked as a printer and began to display his abilities as a mechanic.
THE FIRST INDUSTRIAL PLASTIC
- In 1863, the Phalen and Collender Company, a New York billiard company, organized a contest to design a billiard ball that would not use costly ivory as raw materials.
- For years, John and his brother, Isaiah, experimented with several compositions. They discovered a substance by combining nitrocellulose, camphor, and alcohol and pressing the mixture in a heated mold.
- The mixture evolved into the first synthetic plastic, which became a raw material in making billiard balls.
- They were unsuccessful in getting the $10,000 prize money, which was Hyatt’s primary motivation in inventing celluloid. He also designed the special machinery for its manufacturing and manipulation.
- The synthetic plastic was also used in making denture plates, piano keys, and other things, which motivated Hyatt and his brother to build the Albany Dental Plate Company.
- He and his brother patented their discovery in 1870, and it was named “celluloid” in 1872. In the same year, Hyatt and his brother moved their company from Albany to New Jersey and named it Celluloid Manufacturing Company. It became the company where they put their numerous patents to use.
USES OF CELLULOID
- Celluloid revolutionized the plastic industry. Ordinary products such as combs used celluloid as their raw material rather than animal bones or tortoise shells. It had become the material used in making toys, knives, and toothbrush handles just to name a few.
- The most important celluloid application did not come until twenty years later, when the photography and cinematography industry was rapidly growing.
- Celluloid became the most effective material for making thin films that served as negatives.
- The movie and photography films were made of celluloid before acetate films replaced it in the 1950s.
- Celluloid was relatively flammable, which caused some problems, such as billiard balls sparking when they collided and films self-exploding when exposed to temperatures over 150oC.
- It was eventually replaced by newer and safer synthetic materials. Ping pong balls, however, still used celluloid.
A BATTLE FOR PATENT
- Hyatt encountered a problem with the patent of his celluloid. It appeared that there was a similar product in the UK called “xylonite”, which was patented by Daniel Spill.
- Daniel Spill had worked with Alexander Parkes, the inventor of what was considered the first plastic – parkesine. He established Xylonite Inc. and took over Parkes’ patent.
- Hyatt used parkesine, a hardened form of nitrocellulose, in his experiments for the billiard ball contest. He combined it with alcohol and camphor. Hyatt discovered the use of camphor as a commercially viable way of producing solid and stable nitrocellulose.
- Spill pursued Hyatt in court from 1877 – 1884. In the end, Parkes, who was the inventor of parkesine, was named the actual inventor. Hyatt, on the other hand, was allowed to continue manufacturing celluloid.
- John Wesley Hyatt always had a very active mind. He filed his first patent for a knife sharpener in 1861.
- He also patented a new method for making dominoes and draughts in 1869. His patented inventions included the first injection molding machine, sugarcane milling, roller bearings, and the multiple-stitch sewing machine.
- In 1881-82, he and his brother innovated the Hyatt filter, which purified moving water chemically. They then started the Hyatt Pure Water Company.
- In 1892, he established the Hyatt Roller Bearing Company in New Jersey. Alfred P. Sloan joined the company in 1895 as a draftsman. Hyatt promoted Sloan to president in 1905.
- The company was eventually sold to General Motors in 1916, and Sloan continued to be its president under the new owner.
- Hyatt received a Perkin Medal in 1914 and a John Scott Medal in 1898. He was also included in the National Inventors Hall of Fame and had almost 238 patents to his credit.
- On July 21, 1869, he was married to Anna Elizabeth Taft, daughter of Edward Taft. They eventually had two sons. Hyatt died on May 10, 1920, at Short Hills, New Jersey. He was buried in Fair Mount Cemetery in New Jersey.
John Wesley Hyatt Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about John Wesley Hyatt across 24 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use John Wesley Hyatt worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about John Wesley Hyatt who was an American inventor and industrialist known for discovering the process of making the first, cheap, synthetic, plastic material called celluloid. He revolutionized the plastic industry, as almost all of the raw materials used for different products were expensive and came from nature.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- John Wesley Hyatt Facts
- Hyatt’s Bio
- Hyatt’s Firsts
- Most Important Invention
- Career of an Inventor
- Hyatt’s Achievements
- It Started With a Billiard Ball
- Celluloid To the Rescue
- Patent Battle: Fact or Bluff
- A Big Mistake?
- Building Your Machine
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