Polyvinyl chloride, or in short, PVC, is a widely-used plastic. In terms of revenue generated, it is one of the most valuable products of the chemical industry.
Polyvinyl chloride is produced from its monomer, vinyl chloride (chemical formula CH2=CHCl). PVC is a hard plastic that is made softer and more flexible by the addition of phthalates (plasticizers).
There are many uses for PVC including gramophone records (hence called vinyl records) and pipe/plumbing/conduit fixtures; and, in its soft form, for clothing, upholstery (car seats), etc.
Polyvinyl chloride was accidentally discovered on at least two occasions in the 19th century, first in 1838 by Henri Victor Regnault and in 1872 by Eugen Baumann. On both occasions, the polymer appeared as a white solid inside flasks of vinyl chloride that had been left exposed to sunlight. In the early 20th century, the Russian chemist Ivan Ostromislensky and Fritz Klatte of the German chemical company Griesheim-Elektron both attempted to use PVC in commercial products, but difficulties in processing the rigid, sometimes brittle polymer blocked their efforts.
In 1926, Waldo Semon of B.F. Goodrich developed a method to plasticize PVC by blending it with various additives. The result was a more flexible and more easily processed material that soon achieved widespread commercial use.