• FA-122540 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Production Technology
1910 - 1919
At the moment this object is not published in the museum.

Cassette with garments made of celluloid, 1917

Forget the laundry – just wash it off! In the late 19th century the invention of the synthetic material known as celluloid meant it was now possible to imitate fine, expensive linen, with the prospects of white collars, cuffs and shirt fronts at any time!

Our collection exhibit was made available to the Technisches Museum by the Viennese public limited company Österreichische Aktiengesellschaft für Celluloid-Fabrikation Wien in 1917. Unlike fully synthetic plastics made from mineral oil, celluloid is a cellulose-based semi-synthetic plastic material and regarded as the first thermoplastic, i.e. a plastic that can be thermo-formed.

Celluloid is a combination of cellulose nitrate (a nitric acid ester of cellulose which is colloquially referred to as nitrocellulose although this is not quite accurate) and camphor, which occurs in nature but can also be produced synthetically. Celluloid was first developed in the 1850s and marketed commercially in the 1870s. It originally came about as a result of a search for an inexpensive substitute for the ivory used in billiard balls. But it emerged that this synthetic material was also ideally suited as an imitation for other natural materials such as horn, tortoiseshell and textiles.

For many years stand-up and turn-down collars as well as cuffs made of lily-white linen had been buttoned on to shirts separately. Since the 19th century they had been middle-class status symbols representing pristine, radiantly white linen – and also symbolised work that did not entail getting one’s hands dirty. Indeed, the expression ‘white-collar worker’ remains to this day as the phrase for a person in a desk job.

But immaculate linen used to be expensive. Which is why substitute materials that imitated fine textiles were often used for mass-produced shirt components. Various paper-and-linen blends gave way to synthetic celluloid, which made collars and cuffs washable. As the ready-made garment industry began to spread, replaceable fabric collars and finally shirts made of one piece became affordable for more and more men from the 1920s onwards.

Manufacturer: Österreichische Aktiengesellschaft für Celluloid-Fabrikation, Vienna
Production date: 1917

Inv.Nr. 23927/1
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