Hall of Fame

INDUSTRY OVERVIEW AND HISTORY

   

The development of flexible polyurethane foam (FPF) will likely be remembered as one of the most important commercial events in plastics history.

Today, in North America alone, about 1.2 billion pounds of FPF products are produced annually, and the number continues to grow. FPF improves our daily lives whether at home, at work, while traveling or at play. FPF provides comfort for upholstered furniture, for mattresses, and vehicle interiors. It protects fragile goods and provides relief and support for medical patients. Even FPF scrap plays a big comfort role when recovered and processed into bonded carpet cushion.

Before there were blowing agents and tin catalysts, making FPF was like a making a witch’s brew. Raw materials had to be blended, stirred and heated before the mixture could be laid into a pan to rise. Those were the prepolymer days in the FPF industry.  Chemical companies such as Monsanto and Bayer (combined then as Mobay) were instrumental in introducing prepolymer foam production technology in the United States.

Early U.S. processors traveled back and forth to the Bayer labs in Germany to observe processing, to arrange for custom processing equipment and to compare experiences. Bayer research teams traveled freely to U.S. facilities to guide process development and to gather field notes.

Early processors had easy access to people like David Eynon, president of Mobay. His door was wide open to innovators, because, unlike other great discoveries in chemistry, the creation of polyurethane foam was not an accidental event. It was the outgrowth of painstaking and systematic efforts to develop new products that could rival and replace commercially successful latex foam rubber cushioning and substitute for garneted cotton batting. And the early U.S. processors were partners in the research and product development process.

Truly, the success of FPF in the marketplace was not something that could be predicted in the early days. Prepolymer chemistry was polyester based and resulting foams were stiff and boardy by today’s standards. 

Once useable products were manufactured, there was the problem of how to sell the results. Prepolymer polyester foam products were not well received by furniture manufacturers and had limited application in the mattress industry. Early processors had to believe that significant improvements were coming soon in order to remain in the business. It took courage and an unending drive to make it work.  

The Polyurethane Foam Association, through its Hall of Fame, is proud to recognize the individuals and companies that launched the industry and those that continue to sustain and improve it.