The Role of Chemistry in History

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History of Polyurethane

May 1st, 2008 · 30 Comments ·

Polyurethane | History of Polyurethane | Chemistry of Polyurethane | Polyurethane Affects History | What’s the Controversy?

History of Polyurethane

-First developed by Dr. Otto Bayer in 1937 at the I.G. Farben Laboratories, a subdivision of Bayer Corporation, in Leverkusen, Germany.

-Realized they could create new materials with special characteristics by applying the principle of polyaddition to liquid diisocyanates and existing polyester and polyether diols.

-Part of a larger governement sponsored scientific and technological movement during WWII to create cheap, mass-producable synthetic plastics and rubbers.

-The origin of polyurethane dates back to the beginning of World War II where it is was first developed as a replacement for rubber. The versatility of this new organic polymer and its ability to substitute for scarce materials, spurred numerous applications. During World War II, polyurethane coatings were used for the impregnation of paper and the manufacture of mustard gas resistant garments, high-gloss airplane finishes and chemical and corrosion resistant coatings to protect metal, wood and masonry.

-First commercially available polyurethane was introduced by DuPont Corporation in 1948, material was a rigid foam used in insulation.

-Dow Chemical, BASF, and Mobay Corporation in the following year, 1949, introduced synthetic rubber, polyurethane materials.

-Over the 1960s, through the addition of various additives, chemists were able to develop more flexibile foam polyurethanes, as well as more rigid, hard plastics.

-First all plastic car (made from polyurethanes..!) introduced in 1969 by Bayer AG Corporation in Dusseldorf, Germany.

-Pontiac introduced the first all plastic car in the United States in 1983 using PU materials.

-Increasing use over the 1980s as rising energy costs made it desirable to decrease use of PVC, one of the most common synthetic building materials in the world.

-Development in the 1990s focused on Polyurethane’s potential as a spray sealant. Polyurethane sealants are desriable because of their cheap, easy application, fast drying time, ability to bind to concrete and steel surfaces, and their impermeability.

-Beginning in the early 2000s, industry efforts to become more environmentally friendly created polyurethanes made from vegetable oil polyols, most notably a soy-based polyurethane used by Ford Motor Company in recent automobile interiors (dashboards, side-panels, etc.).


Timeline of Polyurethane Applications

Dr. Otto Bayer discovers the basic polyurethane chemistry. I.G. Farben (Bayer) patents the process

Rigid foam first introduced for aircraft

Adhesive between rubber, metal and glass

First insulation application – a beer barrel

Vulcanized rollable polyurethane rubber

Shoe soles – Synthetic leather

Foam cushions

Introduction of Spandex fiber

Steel sandwich building panels

Integral skin for armrests and shoe soles

Automobile bumpers

Imitation wood
Orthopedics and medical applications

Spray building insulation


Energy absorbing foams for passenger safety

Thin wall medical hoses i.e. catheters

Bicycle tires

Automobile tires

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