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HDPE – From Top Secret Accidental Discovery to Toy Craze

by | Jul 6, 2022 | HPDE pipes, Products

HDPE’s accidental discovery

Polyethene was discovered by accident in 1933 when Eric Fawcett and his colleague made a solid polymer from ethylene, which was unstable until another group of researchers by chance added just the right amount of oxygen to replace leaked ethylene gas.  Soon this Top Secret compound was used to insulate the cabling junctions and reduce the weight of airborne radar systems during WW2. Uses for this early polyethylene were limited because it was quite soft and had a low melting point.

Dr. Karl Ziegler

Dr. Karl Ziegler’s discovery

However, this all changed in 1953 when Professor Karl Ziegler found a way to polymerize ethylene without using high pressure and extreme temperatures. This became known as High Density Polyethylene, because it was far more rigid than the original polyethylene and could withstand boiling water.

For this discovery the Professor was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1963. Still the commercial

Early version Hula Hoops made from HDPE

application of this new material was not truly realized.

Meet the Hula Hoop

Until the global Hula Hoop craze of the 1950’s. Suddenly companies could afford to do more research and investigate other uses for HDPE.
Today HDPE piping is utilized to transport drinking water and oil, irrigate fields and gardens, and in various other industrial scenarios where durable, cost-effective piping is needed.