The History of Acrylics

The History of Acrylics Blog

Acrylic glass is a transparent thermoplastic that is lightweight and shatter-resistant, making it an attractive alternative to glass. Although forms of man-made glass date back to 3500 BC, acrylic glass and its versatile uses are a more recent discovery. 

In 1907, Dr. Otto Röhm teamed up with Otto Haas to create the Röhm and Haas chemical company, which initially focused on creating goods for the leather and textile industry. Despite their initial focus, Dr. Röhm was determined to expand on his doctoral research in acrylic acid ester polymerisate, a colorless and transparent material, and how it could be used commercially. In 1928, the Röhm and Haas chemical company used their findings to create Luglas, which was a safety glass used for car windows. 

Dr. Röhm wasn’t the only one focusing on safety glass – in the early 1930s, British chemists at Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) discovered polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), also known as acrylic glass. They trademarked their acrylic discovery as Perspex.

The Röhm and Haas researchers followed closely behind; they soon discovered that PMMA could be polymerized between two sheets of glass and separated as its own acrylic glass sheet. Röhm trademarked this as Plexiglass in 1933. Around this time, the United States-born E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company (more commonly known as DuPont) also produced their version of acrylic glass under the name Lucite.

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Tensions between nations and the resulting shortage of raw materials during World War II boosted the demand for acrylic glass. Both Allied and Axis forces used acrylic glass for windshields, aircraft windows, periscopes, protective canopies, and gun turrets. Service members who were wounded by broken PMMA faired much better than those who were cut with shattered glass, demonstrating that “safety glass” was indeed much safer than splinters of real glass.

As World War II drew to an end, the companies who made acrylics faced a new challenge: what could they make next? Commercial uses of acrylic glass began to appear in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The impact and shatter resistant qualities that made acrylic great for windshields and windows have now expanded to helmet visors, the exterior lenses on cars, police riot gear, aquariums, and even the “glass” around hockey rinks. Acrylics are also found in modern medicine, including hard contacts, cataract replacements, and implants. Your home is most likely filled with acrylic glass as well: LCD screens, shatterproof glassware, picture frames, trophies, decorations, toys, and furniture are all often made with acrylic glass.

Since its creation, acrylic glass has proven itself to be an affordable and durable choice for building goods that last. Naturally, designers of trophies and awards have gravitated towards acrylic glass to create durable, lightweight, and affordable awards for consumers. 

For over 15 years, the recognition experts at Acrylic Warehouse have been a leading provider of team, association, personal and corporate acrylic awards. Contact Acrylic Warehouse today to learn more about their custom designs, laser engraving, and full-color digital printing services for your acrylic award needs.