Stanley Rosen is the thermoforming industry's historian, and for good reason: He was in on the ground floor.
“I knew all of these early guys,” he said. “Everybody knew everybody. These people were pioneers.”
A vacuum forming machine was demonstrated and sold at the 1952 National Plastics Exhibition in Philadelphia, Rosen wrote in a history of the Society of Plastics Engineers' Thermoforming Division.
Rosen, who joined the Society of Plastics Engineers in the mid-1950s, gave a talk about thermoforming to the New York Section back in 1956.
Fast-forward to 2003 or so, and a retired Rosen began writing a detailed history of the thermoforming industry for the SPE Thermoforming Division's journal. Jim Throne was the editor, and he was interested in recording the history. In his research, Rosen started in the mid-1930s and went to 1956, when the industry started to change. But when Throne left the editorship, the project was discontinued.
“There was more to say, but nobody wanted to listen, so I quit,” Rosen said.
An important early thermoformed part was forming airplane canopies from acrylic sheet. It had to be free of blemishes.
To compile the detailed history, Rosen and his wife, Barbara, visited the New York Public Library on trips to the city to see their children. They looked through the complete collection of Modern Plastics, and Modern Packaging magazines. They racked up a hefty photocopying bill.
Rosen, 89, who is retired and living in Las Vegas, does not travel much and will not attend the 2017 Antec, which SPE celebrates its anniversary. But he said SPE's Thermoforming Division, which was founded in 1970, played a big role in bringing people together in what had been an insular, secretive industry.
“The thermoformers of that early period were generally small- to medium-sized businesses,” Rosen recalled. “Even those that were in the same town, never talked to each other. What the Thermoforming Division did was bring all of these characters together, and they found that the other guy's pretty nice. So the whole complexion changed, completely.”