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The name Plexiglas is closely associated with Otto Röhm (1876 to 1939), an outstanding chemist and inventor. His first great success stemmed from making industrial use of enzymes, a method that is still used for the manufacture of countless products from detergents to food industry applications today.
From 1911, Röhm focused his research on acrylate and methacrylate chemistry, which he had originally explored in his doctoral thesis entitled "Polymerization products of acrylic acid." The first tangible results became available in 1927, and one year later, the company started to produce a clear, transparent bonded safety glass with an interior acrylate layer to serve as glazing material for the automotive industry. Further intensive research work ultimately led to the ground-breaking invention of PLEXIGLAS® in 1933.
The new material would never have been invented had it not been for an accident. Röhm was intent on creating a type of transparent rubber. One day he poured an experimental compound between two glass panels and placed them on a window sill for curing. Although he did not find any rubber the next day, the material he encountered was hard, clear as glass, and easily detachable from the glass panels. The chemist was baffled and perplexed, which ultimately helped him come up with the name of PLEXIGLAS®. The name designated both the product and the brand, since the visionary businessman was convinced that a good material requires a good name and immediately took steps to trademark the brand.
Today, PLEXIGLAS® is one of the world's best-known synthetic material brands and has become the epitome of acrylic glass (in chemical terms, polymethyl methacrylate, or PMMA for short).
People were immediately fascinated with the properties of PLEXIGLAS®. It is much lighter and more durable than glass and is more easily permeated by light. It does not yellow, filters UV radiation, and burns without any toxic fumes. It is simple to process, can be shaped under heat, is resistant, easy to care for, and completely recyclable. It can be dyed any color, conducts light in transparent varieties, and is of optically ultrapure quality. It can be produced as cast or extruded semifinished materials and processed as a molding compound with all thermoplastic methods.
The material won a gold medal at the 1937 World Fair for music instruments made of PLEXIGLAS®. Such instruments are still being built and used to this day. The most important example in Germany is the grand piano used by singer Udo Jürgens.
Unfortunately, Plexiglas found its most common use in the weapons industry from the early years to the end of the war and was primarily used in the cockpits of fighter planes.
The breakthrough success for PLEXIGLAS® came after WWII, when post-war society discovered its use in roofs, furniture, automobiles, injection-molded lenses and as the cover of the fashionable new record players. The cockpit of the legendary Messerschmitt microcars was made of PLEXIGLAS®. Designers have been so infatuated with the product for decades that there is always no place in everyday life that does not feature PLEXIGLAS®. Fiber optics in super-thin LED televisions are made of the material, as are bicycle reflectors, car rear lights, airplane windows, sun roofs, watch covers or fresnel lenses for solar applications. Eighty years after its invention, PLEXIGLAS® continues to be an ultramodern material with continuously new applications.
Evonik is a worldwide manufacturer of PMMA products sold under the PLEXIGLAS® trademark on the European, Asian, African and Australian continents and under the ACRYLITE® trademark in the Americas.