• FA-123214 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
  • FA-123213 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Production Technology
Collection
Plastics
Epoch
1900 - 1909
At the moment this object is not published in the museum.

Sample boards: origins of Galalith and products made from Galalith, 1900-1950

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Buttons made from milk? That’s right! Before the invention of the fully synthetic plastic material made from mineral oil, another invention became all the rage: the semi-synthetic plastic material made from casein, a milk protein.

It takes around 10,000 litres of full-cream milk to extract approx. 300 kg of casein. This synthetic material is known to this day under the name Galalith (literally ‘milk stone’, or synthetic horn). Galalith was first developed around 1900 and is formed as a result of the polycondensation of casein and formaldehyde. The horn-like synthetic material is a thermosetting polymer, or thermoset, i.e. it is particularly hard and, once set, can no longer be moulded. The raw material was manufactured in bars or sheets for further processing; it can be dyed any colour and machined relatively easily, e.g. turned, milled, sawn or drilled.

Buttons, jewellery, household articles, and toys were made using the semi-synthetic material Galalith. It was only after the Second World War that the material’s importance began to dwindle, due first and foremost to increasingly stiff competition from fully synthetic plastics. Nonetheless, Galalith has managed to prevail in niche markets to this day, for instance in non-clicking, i.e. silent, knitting needles or in button production, especially in Italy.

Galalith was so popular during the first half of the 20th century that no technical museum worth its salt could afford to be without it. Which is how the two sample boards of unknown provenance ended up in the collection of the Technisches Museum Wien: one shows the – not very illustrative – process involved in making the material. Indeed, chemical production processes are not the easiest thing in the world to depict. The other sample board features the product assortment of the beautiful and colourful world of Galalith.

Manufacturer: Unknown
Production date: first half of the 20th century

Inv.Nr. 35757
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