Raise a cup to Styrofoam's 50th year


Say happy anniversary to that snow-white cup that holds your morning coffee.

This year marks 50 years of consumer use of polystyrene foam -- Styrofoam.

It's hard to believe that people once made do without foam egg cartons, coolers, craft balls, picnic cups ...

Styrofoam was invented in 1941, when World War II was raging and American scientists were scurrying to develop synthetic rubber. A Dow Chemical engineer, Ray McIntire, tried foaming plastic polystyrene, and got a rigid material instead of a rubbery one. But it was also light and buoyant. Before the war's end, it would be used in life rafts and navigation buoys; in 1948, Dow started developing commercial uses.

Dow remains the leading producer of the foam, but has never made the food service products most of us erroneously call Styrofoam. It doesn't make packing peanuts, either.

A Dow spokeswoman explains the difference between its Styrofoam and the polystyrene foam used in food service: "Ours is extruded, like toothpaste under a great amount of pressure. The other is molded. Lots of tiny beads are compressed under pressure."

And if you absent-mindedly nibble on a cup rim, "it won't kill you," says Laurie Kusek, a spokeswoman for the Society of the Plastics Industry.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.