Alexander S. Zimmerman - Hall of Fame Entry
Author: Plastics Academy Staff
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Alexander S. Zimmerman
Phenolic, the first synthetic polymer, was developed by Dr. Leo Bakeland (also a Plastics Hall of Fame inductee) and introduced as Bakelite in 1907. Ultimately, this thermoset resin was most widely used in the form of molding compound, but it can also be cast directly into basic shapes such as sheets, rods, and tubes. In the course of a 57-year plastics career (1922-1979), Alexander S. Zimmerman was a preeminent expert in the technology of cast phenolic.
At the beginning of his plastics career, Zimmerman brought back from a visit to Germany a process for making plastics from casein, a thermoset material derived from the protein of cow’s milk. To produce casein plastics, he formed the Karolith Corporation.
After selling this company, Zimmerman was approached by Leo Bakeland, who asked him to sell basic shapes made of cast phenolic. The Bakelite Company had been phasing out of cast phenolic for lack of sufficient business, but Zimmerman’s success in selling off the inventory of the Cast Phenolic Division led the company to keep the division operating, with Zimmerman as manager.
Zimmerman helped Bakelite develop cast phenolic resins for use in producing the atomic bomb and worked with the U.S. Navy to develop shatterproof lenses for gauges on battleships. In cooperation with Edwin H. Land, founder of Polaroid Corp. (and another Plastics Hall of Fame inductee), Zimmerman developed a method of analyzing photoelastic stress suing a special cast phenolic sheet and polarized light.