How was plasticine invented?

William Herbatt was born in 1844. In 1874, after graduating from the National School of Art Education (the future Royal College of Arts) in London, he moved to Sommerset, where he headed the School of Art and Design in Bath, and three years later he opened his own Model School of Arts with his wife Bessie ( Paragon School of Arts). The new school gradually earned a reputation as an excellent educational institution, and Herbatt himself was considered a good teacher. But in the mid-1890s, he ran into a problem.

During the teaching of sculpture, students used clay to complete the teacher’s assignment. In the first classes, everything was in order, but as the tasks became more complicated, many students no longer had the duration of the lesson to complete the project. Unfinished clay sculptures quickly dried out and became hard, which greatly complicated the work on the continuation.

William decided to make life easier for his students and began to search for alternative materials. At home, he experimented by mixing various substances and squeezing water from the resulting mixtures using a garden skating rink. After trying several hundred mixtures, Herbutt found that the best properties are a mixture of chalk (calcium carbonate), petroleum jelly and aliphatic fatty acids (mainly stearic). The mass was non-toxic, had the desired consistency, easily flexed hands, softened and melted when heated, and most importantly - always remained plastic and soft, not drying at all even in a month or two.

In 1897, Herbatt began to distribute new material to students before class. But rumors about his invention spread among the artistic community of the city, and many artists and sculptors began to turn to Herbatt with a request to give them a little plastic mass, which the inventor himself called Plasticine (in Russian, this material became known as plasticine). However, plasticine did not bring the greatest joy to students of the school, but to the grandchildren of William Herbatt. They were delighted with the new toy, and William decided to patent his invention. In 1899, he received a patent and began the production of plasticine, adding dyes to the recipe and advertising his product as “a clean, harmless and always plastic model material, ideal for professional sculptors, amateurs, children and adults. A great gift for any child, genius or loser. ”

Since then, many thousands of tons of plasticine have been crushed by the palms of sculptors, engineers, architects, people of various professions and, of course, children for the manufacture of everything that exists in the human imagination, from simple toys to military cards and models of space suits, from dental casts to turbojet engines.

The article “Drying clay” was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 4, April 2015).


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