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Syracuse University opens Plastics Pioneers reading room

By: Bill Bregar

October 10, 2013

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Researchers and plastics history fans now have a gathering place at Syracuse University, home to a major collection of artifacts, books and documents — as the Plastics Pioneers Reading Room opened at the campus library.

Glenn and Patsy Beall donated the money to build the room. Glenn Beall is a product designer and plastics historian who is a member of the Plastics Hall of Fame. He and his wife Patsy are very active in the industry, helping out at many events.

The PPA will provide funding on an ongoing basis to keep the reading room open.

Syracuse University houses the collection that formerly was in the National Plastics Center in Leominster, Mass., which closed in 2008.

The Plastics Hall of Fame was moved from Leominster to the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. But the historical artifacts were boxed up and put into storage.

Then Harry Greenwald, a longtime plastics entrepreneur and SU alum, along with other members of PPA, approached the university, which is well-known for its historical collections.

Syracuse University created a searchable virtual museum that still exists, at www.plastics.syr.edu.

Now there's a real room where students, teachers, researchers and others can learn first-hand about the history of plastics.

PPA and university officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the reading room during the association's fall meeting, Sept. 26-28. Beall explained the importance of plastics history: "Celluloid, the first man-made plastics, was discovered 145 years ago. In all of that time, there never was a permanent place to store and display the history of our industry. As a result, the industry's artifacts have been scattered and lost."

In a report to PPA's Plastics History & Artifacts Committee, Beall said the Syracuse website has 2,500 artifacts, 342 biographies, 561 company profiles, 2,020 books, 357 timeline dates, 48 links to other resources and 9 historical essays.

The virtual museum will be known as the Plastics Pioneers Website II, a Dewey Rainville Gift, after the machinery executive who contributed money to get the website going.

In his speech at the PPA Reading Room, Glenn Beall said that none of the three-dozen-plus technical and trade associations has the word "history" in its name. He quoted poet Jim Harrison: "Death steals everything except our stories."