Brown Bag Lecture: The Beauty, the Baby, and the Bauble: Plastic Trinkets, Premiums, Novelties, and Toys, 1937–1960

Lunchtime Lectures
Monday, March 12, 2018
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a Brown Bag Lecture by Angela Cope, Doan Fellow at the Science History Institute.

Despite toys, promotional premiums, and novelty items being used as key agents to introduce plastic to the consuming public, little research has been conducted on their importance to the plastics industry and beyond. Through such sources as the Dow Archives at the Institute and Modern Plastics and Playthings magazines, I will demonstrate the ways in which this history is both present and absent in the archive, and posit that these items are a huge and overlooked aspect of the dissemination and acceptance of plastic into American lives. I will argue that the early consumer goods in plastic were distinctly feminized and infantilized, which subsequently devalued the material as cheap and gaudy and, eventually, disposable.

About the Speaker

Angela Cope is a PhD candidate in Science and Technology Studies at York University in Toronto. Currently she is on a short-term fellowship at the Science History Institute, studying the rise of the use of polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and polyethylene in children’s toys in the postwar era and the concomitant devaluation of those materials. She was a recipient of the Strong Research Fellowship at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, and of a Social Science and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Award. Most recently, she gave an invited talk at the Sarnoff Collection at the College of New Jersey, titled “Summertime, and the Living Is Plastic: PVC and the Rise of the Summer Inflatable Industry.” The overarching question that all of her research tries to answer is “why do we make the most disposable items out of the least disposable material?”

About the Series

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.