Plastics Special Collections Research Center

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When the National Plastics Center and Museum (NPCM) — an industry-funded museum — closed in 2008, it transferred thousands of books and artifacts, as well as forty-three archival collections, to the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at Syracuse University Libraries. The resources from this transfer document the rise of plastics primarily from the perspective of the plastics industry and includes papers related to plastic innovators, such as John Wesley Hyatt from the 19th century, Irvin Rubin from the 20th century, and plastics companies such as the Viscoloid Company and Foster Grant. The NPCM transfer also included the core of the Plastics Artifacts Collection, an exemplary resource of over 3,000 objects produced from the mid-19th century to the present day related to the history, chemistry, innovation and rise of plastics manufacturing across material culture. Syracuse University Libraries' established the plastics collection in part because of this transfer and also because plastic was a muse and material referenced in its modern architecture and industrial design collections, as evidenced within designers' papers like Russell Wright and Egmont Arens.

Since 2008, SCRC has continued to grow the plastics collection and further situate it within adjoining areas of relevance to Syracuse University’s curriculum, such as the history of science and technology, environmentalism, activism, fashion, art, labor studies and public health. The plastics collection holds primary sources across a wide variety of formats, including prototypes, photographs, audio, film, advertisements, blueprints and more. All of these have the potential to support interdisciplinary research within the subject area of plastics.

The geographic scope of the archival collections lies mainly within the United States. Local collections include Syracuse Ornamental Company (Syroco) and the Margaret Embree Photograph Album. National examples include the Eugene Phillips Papers and the Armand G. Winfield Papers. And global examples include the Edward Hellmich Papers and the Plastics Product Literature Collection.

Also found within the plastics collection area are resources related to the history and production of hair ornamentation and the collection and community surrounding the ‘antique comb.’ For instance, the F.W. Gray Comb Designs and the Amorosi Family Collection chronicle the early use of plastics within hair comb designs of the mid-19th and early 20th century, and the Irwin Casper Collection of Brush Product Literature contains catalogs and product literature on various combs across the globe from the 1960s to the 1990s. Also within these unique comb resources are a subcollection focusing on the community and publications of comb collection enthusiasts, such as the Antique Comb Collectors Club Records.

Researchers of plastics might also be interested in our collections in the area of Architecture and Industrial Design, Artists, Painters, and Sculptors, and Recorded Sound and Music.

Archival Materials

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Digitized Materials

The Plastics Collection provides access to digital sources curated from the plastics collection area and spanning formats such as: photographs, design drawings, plastics artifacts, catalogs and publications. The largest resource is the Plastics Artifacts Collection: a comprehensive image-based resource documenting over 2,500 historical plastics artifacts and descriptions, which was generously funded by the Plastics Pioneers Association and their Plastics History and Artifacts Committee and the Greenwald-Haupt Charitable Foundation.

Learn more about “The Plastics Collection” digital initiative. To learn more about the history of plastics and the industry, see the Plastic Pioneers Historical Plastics Collection project (coming soon).

Rare Books and Printed Materials

The Syracuse University Libraries have almost 2,000 titles related to the subject of plastics. About 200 of these are housed in the Special Collections Research Center. These items include early publications about natural plastics, synthetic plastics, limited editions of company reports, histories and product catalogues, hard to find contemporary exhibition catalogues, and historic plastics periodicals.

Useful search terms to locate these items include "plastics industry and trade," "celluloid," "bakelite," "plastics in building," "nylon," "polyethylene," "polypropylene," and "plastics - design and construction." When searching, select "Special Collections Materials" as search option to find materials located in the SCRC.

Exhibitions and Programs

Partners and Collection Development

The plastics collection area was established in 2008 when the National Plastics Center and Museum, located in Leominster, Massachusetts, closed and transferred its collections of artifacts, books and manuscripts to SCRC. This initiative was brought to Syracuse University Libraries by Syracuse University alumnus Harry Greenwald ’51 and the Plastics Pioneers Association. Learn more about the Plastics Pioneers Association.

To learn more about donating financially to the plastics collection area, select the Special Collections Gift Fund option on our Give Now page. To learn more about donating artifacts, books, or archival material to the plastics collection area, contact