“Death steals everything, except our stories.” That’s a quote from poet Jim Harrison in In Search of Small Gods. I borrowed it to tell you a story of one group’s effort to preserve the history of our industry. If you’re one of the roughly 900,000 or so people who work in plastics, you’ve contributed to this history, and perhaps can help in the effort to maintain it.
In your attic or basement, maybe in your workshop or in a box in the back of a closet…if you’ve been in the industry a while, you’ve likely accumulated a lot of stuff. Maybe this stuff is in your company’s storage room. Stuff like old SPE ANTEC papers, patents, maybe molded parts from breakthrough projects in which you or your firm were involved. Hey, maybe even back issues of Plastics Technology.
Come spring cleaning, if you or your organization is tempted to throw out that old stuff (although I’d understand if you wanted to cling to your Plastics Technology archives), don’t toss it. Instead, please consider donating it to Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.
Working in conjunction with the Plastics Pioneers Association (PPA), the university has set up the Plastics Collection. It combines a “virtual museum” (check out plastics.syr.edu) that contains materials gleaned primarily from the old National Plastics Center (NPC) in Leominster, Mass., with a real place where, thanks to recent developments, you can go, grab a seat, and do some research the old-fashioned way. More on that in a moment.
The effort at Syracuse started in 2008, the year the National Plastics Center, which also housed the Plastics Hall of Fame, closed. Most of the Hall of Fame was moved to the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, but the artifacts that the Museum had collected over the years were in limbo.
An initiative to save that collection was initiated by the PPA and driven by Harry Greenwald, a serial entrepreneur in plastics who spent his career founding companies in molding, parts/shapes distribution, and other businesses. Greenwald and a handful of other PPA members came up with three options: create a brand-new museum, or a special exhibit at an existing museum, or a traveling museum. All were ruled out due to cost. So Greenwald approached Syracuse, and provided the initial funding to get the project off the ground.
What started as strictly an online virtual museum (funded in part by PPA member Dewey Rainville) evolved into carpets, chairs, tables, and shelves in late September 2013, due to the generosity of PPA member and Hall of Famer Glenn Beall and his wife Patsy. They provided the money for what is now called the Plastics Pioneers Reading Room.
Here’s where you come in. Lots of material that Syracuse received from NPC was unusable, so at the moment the museum does not reflect the enormous contributions that plastics have made to industry and society. If you or your firm have some plastics collectibles, please visit plastics.syr.edu, click on the Make Your Impact logo on the bottom right of the home page, and fill out the form.
Why the obsession with history? In September’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at Syracuse, the venerable Mr. Beall, who for decades has operated Glenn Beall Plastics Ltd. in Libertyville, Ill., weighed in: “Celluloid, the first man-made plastic, was discovered 145 years ago. In all of that time, there never was a permanent place to store and display the history of our industry. As a result, the industry’s artifacts have been scattered and lost.”
“In 2011, the industry employed 885,000 people, represented by over three dozen technical societies and trade associations,” Beall continued. “None of these associations has the word ‘history’ in its name. As far as is known, none include preserving the history of the plastics industry in their goals…with the exception of the PPA. The poet Jim Harrison wrote, ‘Death steals everything except our stories.’”
So check the nooks and crannies of your home or business. Dust off thosse old boxes and look inside for informative artifacts. And log on to plastics.syr.edu and become part of history.