Interesting Facts about John Wesley Hyatt

Inventor of Celluloid (First Commercially Successful Thermoplastic Polymer)

John Wesley Hyatt
John Wesley Hyatt. Source:

John Wesley Hyatt (1837 – 1920), an American inventor and industrialist, invented the first commercially successful thermoplastic polymer – Celluloid which was invented with the aim to replace Ivory-made billiard balls in 1860s, with an aim to win the prize money of 10,000 USD, a competition organized by a New York based company named Phelan and Collander. Unfortunately, John didn’t win this competition. However, celluloid is considered one of the most important that saved elephants from extinction. The blog post talks about some of the interesting facts about John Wesley Hyatt. I hope you find them equally interesting!

  • John had 238 patents on his name. Some of the notable inventions were:
    • Making of celluloid (US Patent 88633, 1869)
    • Compression molding machine (US Patent 152232, 1874)
    • Ram extruder (US Patent 133229, 1872)
    • Celluloid brushes (US Patent 156355, 1874)
    • Equipment for liquid filtering (ES4000A1, 1884)
    • Method of water purification (US Patent 293740, 1884)
    • Making helical spring rollers by coiling steel ribbon on a mandrel (GB189718111A, 1897)
    • Machine for making ice fragments into continuous bar (US Patent 1221054A, 1917)
    • Juice extracting machine (US Patent 1268247A, 1918)

He also invented sugar milling machine, knife sharpener and machine belt sewing machine

  • In an attempt to make ivory substitute to win the competition organized by a New York based company named Phelan and Collander having a gift prize of 10,000 USD he made checkers and dominoes using pressed wood. However, with his brother he started checkers and dominoes manufacturing company in New York
  • On successfully making the billiard ball using celluloid, John started a ‘Albany Billiard Ball Company’ in 1868. Balls were made as per his US Patent 88633, 1869. His brother Isaiah Hyatt was the co-inventor in the patent
Billiard Ball made by the Albany Billiard Ball Company
Billiard Ball made by the Albany Billiard Ball Company. Source:
  • On inventing Celluloid, John started a company named ‘Celluloid Manufacturing Company’, whose first product was a dental plate. However, he later formed a separate company for making dental plates – Albany Dental Plate Company in 1870.
  • Name celluloid was trademarked by John in 1871
  • Various products John made using celluloid:
    • Knife handles
    • Toothbrushes
    • Combs
    • Ballpoint pen bodies
    • Collars and Cuffs
    • Toys
    • Butons
    • Piano keys
    • Dice etc
  • Celluloid Manufacturing Company was later purchased by Celanese Corporation; whereas, his another company named ‘Hyatt Roller Bearing Company’ became part of General Motors
  • Other companies formed by John were:
    • Celluloid Brush Company
    • Celluloid Waterproof Cuff and Collar Company
    • Celluloid Piano Key Company
    • Hyatt Pure Water Company
  • Three materials are always confused with: Parkesine, Celluloid, and Xylonite.
    • Parkesine: Gun cotton + undisclosed plasticizer (presumed to be camphor)
    • Celluloid: Gun cotton + camphor
    • Xylonite: Gun cotton + vegetable oil
  • There was a patent infringement war between ‘The Xylonite Company’ and ‘The Celluloid Manufacturing Company’ over the use of ethanol in the process, which both of them used, giving similarity in the process. John immediately replaced ethanol with methanol getting out of the patent infringement. Interestingly Parkes testified in favour of John!

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