Parkes, Alexander

b. 29 December 1813 Birmingham, England
d. 29 June 1890 West Dulwich, England
English chemist and inventor who made the first plastic material.
After serving apprentice to brassfounders in Birmingham, Parkes entered Elkington's, the celebrated metalworking firm, and took charge of their casting department. They were active in introducing electroplating and Parkes's first patent, of 1841, was for the electroplating of works of art. The electrodeposition of metals became a lifelong interest.
Notably, he achieved the electroplating of fragile objects, such as flowers, which he patented in 1843. When Prince Albert visited Elkington's, he was presented with a spider's web coated with silver. Altogether, Parkes was granted sixty-six patents over a period of forty-six years, mainly relating to metallurgy.
In 1841 he patented a process for waterproofing textiles by immersing them in a solution of indiarubber in carbon disulphide. Elkingtons manufactured such fabrics until they sold the process to Mackintosh Company, which continued making them for many years. While working for Elkingtons in south Wales, Parkes developed the use of zinc for desilvering lead. He obtained a patent in 1850 for this process, which was one of his most important inventions and became widely used.
The year 1856 saw Parkes's first patent on pyroxylin, later called Xylonite or celluloid, the first plastic material. Articles made of Parkesine, as it came to be called, were shown at the International Exhibition in London in 1862, and he was awarded a medal for his work. Five years later, Parkesine featured at the Paris Exhibition. Even so, Parkes's efforts to promote the material commercially, particularly as a substitute for ivory, remained stubbornly unsuccessful.
1850, British patent no. 13118 (the desilvering of lead). 1856, British patent no. 235 (the first on Parkesine).
1865, Parkes gave an account of his invention of Parkesine in J.Roy.Arts, (1865), 14, 81–.
Further Reading
Obituary, 1890, Engineering, (25 July): 111.
Obituary, 1890, Mining Journal (26 July): 855.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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