John Wesley Hyatt

  • Inventor of Plastic

  • Father of Injection Molding

  • Elephant Hero

In the middle 1800’s one of the most popular sports in the world was billiards. However, billiards created a huge demand for ivory, the only known substance at the time for manufacturing billiard balls. In 1869 the demand for ivory had grown so intense that industry experts estimated over 100,000 elephants a year were being slaughtered to fill all the orders. Ivory from one adult elephant can yield only 8-10 billiard balls.

One set of 16 balls = 1.5 – 2 elephants (12,000-16,000 lbs.)

In 1863 billiard manufacturer Brunswick-Balke-Collender offered up a $10,000 prize for the best ivory substitute for making billiard balls. After six years of experimentation, inventor John Wesley Hyatt came forward with his invention of Celluloid, the world’s first practical synthetic plastic.

Hyatt was never paid his prize, but in 1872 was issued a patent and produced the first injection molding machine. By 1874 he produced the first billiard balls and founded the Albany Billiard Ball Company. Soon injection molded Celluloid was replacing other ivory derived products such as piano keys, combs, and buttons. Hyatt’s invention launched the plastics industry and was instrumental in saving elephants from extinction.