It’s not widely used these days, but a century ago celluloid was a very popular material. While celluloid is mostly known for being used in film, it was first found to be a handy replacement for ivory. Jewelry and accessories were made much more affordable with the appearance of this cheap, moldable plastic material. There is a small problem with celluloid, however.
It has a tendency to explode near heat.
In the article above, an elderly gentleman was combing his beard and burning the hairs off the teeth of his celluloid comb when it exploded and his clothes caught fire. This wasn’t the first time, or the last, that such an accident happened as a result of the celluloid trend. Some were fortunate enough to evade death, but suffered painful burns and lost their hair to the flames.
The flammable qualities of celluloid were noticed early on. This next clipping, from a newspaper in 1900, shows how some recognized the dangers of having celluloid near fire. Yet celluloid accessories continued to be used by customers both aware and unaware of its flammability. Those wary of being set aflame simply kept away from fire, as the article advises.
And many injuries did result from these “dangerous articles of female adornment.” A simple search of “celluloid comb” on Newspapers.com shows many more results of articles like these, recounting unfortunate comb-related injuries and deaths. Still, celluloid remained popular until the 1920s and 30s, when it began to be replaced by other materials. Today celluloid is found in table tennis balls and guitar picks…and not much else.
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