Waldo Semon, who changed the plastics industry with his 1926 discovery of a way to make plasticized PVC, died May 26. He was 100.
Semon died at the Laurel Lake Retirement Community in Hudson, Ohio.
Used in everything from pipe to shower curtains to medical blood bags, PVC has become one of the highest-volume commodity plastics. Some 14.5 billion pounds of PVC were produced in the United States last year.
It was a different world in 1926. When Semon made his famous discovery, industry thought polyvinyl chloride was a worthless chemical. His breakthrough happened by accident. As a young chemist at BFGoodrich Co., Semon was assigned to find a synthetic adhesive that would bond rubber to metal. He heated a batch of PVC in boiling ether. He ended up with a flexible, elastic material — plasticized PVC.
In was several years before Goodrich would exploit Semon's invention. After all, the Akron, Ohio, company was a rubber company. The 1929 stock market crash also dampened enthusiasm for risky new products. But Goodrich began marketing its Koroseal line of PVC, and the market steadily grew. Years later, Goodrich got out of the tire business and concentrated on plastics and chemicals.
Despite his groundbreaking PVC discovery, Semon doggedly kept working on the rubber-to-metal bonding system. Eventually, he developed eight of them.
He also helped pioneer synthetic rubber.
Before Goodrich, Semon lived in Seattle, where he had taught at the University of Washington. He bought a used, 1918 Ford touring car and drove his family to Akron for higher-paying work in an industrial laboratory.
After he retired from Goodrich in 1963, Semon returned to teaching, at Kent State University.
In his later years, as his eyesight faded, Semon hired readers to tape-record articles from technical journals, novels and magazines.
``He kept an active interest in science, that's certain,'' said Frank Kelley dean of the University of Akron's College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering. ``One of the last times I saw him, he came to a talk I gave in Hudson. He was able to ask some probing questions. He still had a lively mind.''
David Burner, Goodrich's chief executive officer, called Semon ``one of the world's most distinguished inventors.''
``He contributed greatly to the success of our company, and the legacy that he helped establish for creativity and innovation remains very much a part of the BFGoodrich Co. today,'' Burner said.
Semon was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame in 1982, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1995.
The Johnson Romito Funeral Home in Hudson is arranging services.