"The four building blocks of the universe are fire, water, gravel, and vinyl."
Dave Barry, author and humorist
Since it was first made, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) has been one of the most widely used plastics. The molecule was first discovered by accident in the 1800s by two chemists, each of whom left flasks of chemicals out in the sun and noticed that a white solid formed in them. However, it was not until 1926 that Waldo Semon (1898-1999) made the crucial breakthrough. He blended this material with additives, known as plasticizers, so that a useful product was formed, and the plasticized PVC, often shortened to "vinyl," was born.
Until this point, people had not seen any value in the product—in Semon's own words, "People thought of PVC as worthless back then. They'd throw it in the trash." The new plastic quickly became used for a myriad of different applications and is now the second most produced plastic in the world, generating billions of dollars of revenue each year.
First used as the soles of shoes and a coating for wires and tool handles, applications of this cheap-to- produce material soon became more widespread, particularly in the building industry, where it is used in everything from guttering and wiring insulation to window frames, floor tiles, and fencing. It also has innumerable other uses in everyday items, including food packaging, toys, car dashboards, vinyl records, and even clothing, being one of the fabrics of choice for pop stars, superheroes, and fetishists alike.