At Union Carbide Corp., they once dubbed Harold A. Holz "Mr. Polyethylene." Another name — "Mr. Longevity" — fits just as well when it comes to his career and volunteering spirit. Holz started his sales career at Carbide in 1947, as a Bakelite trainee in Bound Brook, N.J. The war was over. America was spending money again. Soon Holz began selling commodity resins, including the new PE, to some big-name accounts — Tupper Corp.; Plax Corp., a blow molding and film pioneer; early housewares powerhouse Loma Industries, and others.
Holz, now 74, is still working in PE and other resins, as a full-time consultant to Marval Industries Inc. in Mamaroneck, N.Y. He joined Marval, a compounder and resin reseller in 1986, after retiring from Carbide.
Holz goes into the Plastics Hall of Fame this week during NPE.
"I represent this group of post-[World War II] plastics salesmen that were really the true pioneers in the development in new plastic items, working with the molders, extruders and the blow molders," Holz said. "There were a lot of us out there, and I just happened to be one that stayed with it for 53 years."
Holz likes to talk about the glory years. New large-volume resins. His friendship with Earl Tupper. Breakthrough products such as the first squeeze bottles and plastic trash cans.
But Holz also knows the dangers of complacency. That's why he supports trade associations.
"Early on, all of us out there selling plastics resins and compounds had a problem because the poor-quality items almost ruined the industry," he said. "My feeling is that groups within [the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and Society of Plastics Engineers], and those of us out there working with customers, made major contributions to improve quality. ... For a long time plastics were seen as cheap and breakable."
Holz joined the SPE in 1958. He rose through the ranks at Carbide, moving to St. Louis, Chicago then back to New York. Through the moves, local SPE groups helped keep him in touch with industry leaders. He became SPE president in 1975-76.
Holz still cares deeply about SPE and SPI. In a letter to the editor of Plastics News last year, he wondered aloud why, in an age where Dow Chemical Co. and Union Carbide Corp. could merge, SPI and the American Plastics Council could not form a single trade group.
"I am truly devastated" by the turmoil caused by the SPI-APC rift, wrote Holz, who went on to propose a single umbrella organization with equal representation by APC, SPI and SPE, and a rotating two-year term for chief executive officer.
He also serves on the board of governors at the Leominster, Mass.-based National Plastics Center & Museum, home to the Plastics Hall of Fame.
Holz is outgoing and, at times, passionate. William H. Joyce, Carbide's chairman and chief executive officer, wrote a letter supporting the hall of fame nomination. Joyce said the plastics industry needs inventors, entrepreneurs, money people and scientists.
"It also needed people like Harold, who made the connections among all the above people and companies; a person who could be trusted, who would work hard to help and who knew others might help you succeed."
Holz and Joyce worked together to commercialize Carbide's groundbreaking Unipol process for making PE. Unipol produces resin shaped like large grains of sand, straight out of the reactor. That was good for Carbide, which could skip an expensive step of extruding and pelletizing the material.
But Holz heard another story: "It was an extremely difficult sell job to try to get customers to use it. They had to change their whole material-handling system to handle granular material."
Because Unipol resins had much higher viscosity than standard PEs, customers needed brand-new screws. Film producers had to modify their dies.
"Most people didn't want to mess with it," Holz said.
Gradually, Holz began closing deals for the new material. At the same time, he got a front-row seat to the revolution in plastic film — linear low density polyethylene.
Like any super salesman, Holz loves to tell stories:
Earl Tupper began a custom molding business in Massachusetts in 1938. He developed his signature Tupperware in the 1940s and became a huge buyer of PE. He was a "design genius" with a forceful personality.
One day Holz had to deliver some bad news, that Carbide was unable to supply more PE resin to fill Tupperware's growing appetite.
"He got all upset about that, and he did some research. And the next time I walked in, he gave me an order for a million pounds of vinyl resin. He'd been in touch with our chemicals group for plasticizers, and he was determined to make soft vinyl rubber-replacement housewares items, like Rubbermaid was making out of rubber. If he couldn't get polyethylene, he was going to design these other items."
When Holz informed his bosses at Carbide, they found more PE resin for Tupper, but it contained black carbon pellets. Tupper assigned employees at the housewares molder to hand-sort the pellets.
After he sold the housewares molder, Tupper moved to Costa Rica. One day he called Holz from a motel in Lunenburg, Mass. He had a present — a load of early Tupperware loaded in the back of a station wagon.
"I immediately jumped in my car and drove up to Lunenburg," Holz said. "Together we opened up these boxes that had been stored away for 30 years. He would open them up and explain how they were designed, what the intent was."
Holz has the proof. A hired photographer recorded the moment — cheesy motel painting and all.
Holz sold resin to pioneering blow molder Plax Corp. One huge hit in the 1940s was the Stopette deodorant squeeze bottle.
"That was a big deal. Everything had been glass or metal, and all of a sudden Plax was at the forefront in developing a low density polyethylene blown bottle that was flexible." Another innovation was a ketchup bottle shaped like a tomato.
When Illinois Tool Works Inc. was creating its Hi-Cone six-pack carrier ring in the early 1960s, Holz and Carbide salesman Wayne Lyon visited the company. What they saw — some sheet hand-cut with scissors — left Holz unimpressed. "It reminded me of cutting out paper dolls." That was hundreds of millions of six-pack rings ago.
Loma Industries of Texas, made the first plastic trash can, injection molded out of LDPE, in 1957. But the material became brittle at very cold temperatures.
"They molded these large trash cans, and in Texas they were fine. But when they started to sell up North, in the winter, God, people would drop them and they'd break," Holz said.
Carbide developed a special copolymer that solved the problem.
A 1962 photo in the Fort Worth Press shows Loma President Lewis H. Barnett christening the first rail car of Carbide resin at a new loading dock. Looking on as the champagne flows, Holz lets out a yell. That same passion lives today, in hall of famer Harold Holz.