Waldo L. Semon
Born Sep 10 1898 - Died May 26 1999
Synthetic Rubber-like Composition and Method of Making Same; Method of Preparing Polyvinyl Halide Products
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Patent Number(s) 1,929,453;2,188,396
In 1926 Waldo Semon, newly employed in the research department at The BFGoodrich Company in Akron, Ohio, decided to pursue a dubious project. Instead of digging into his assigned work, he began trying to dissolve an undesirable material called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to create an adhesive for bonding rubber to metal.
'People then thought of PVC as worthless back then,' Semon recalled. 'They'd throw it in the trash.'
Semon never succeeded in creating the adhesive, but by heating PVC in a solvent at a high boiling point he discovered a substance that was both flexible and elastic. At first no one literally knew what to make of Semon's newfangled substance, but decades later PVC has become the world's second-best-selling plastic, generating billions of dollars in sales each year.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is now the world's second most used plastic and it is one of the most valuable products of the chemical industry. Accidentally discovered twice in the nineteenth century, it was not until Semon found a way to plasticize the material by blending it with multiple additives did the substance become commercial.
PVC is commonly used to insulate electric wires and to produce pipes. In the U.S. alone PVC pipes account for 65% of the water distribution market and 75% in sanitary sewer pipe applications.