K celebrates its 65th anniversary

The political situation promoted attempts to overcome borders and heal rifts – and to operate at a supranational level. Some European countries developed closer economic ties: with the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands laid the foundations for what was later to become the European Union (EU) of 28 Member States in the meantime, following the last increase in July 2013.

As is still the case today, a major ally of Western Europe was the United States of America, the world’s leading economic, political and military power – which was considered to be its main role model where pop culture was concerned too: the US way of life became the standard by which prosperity and satisfaction with life were measured in Europe as well.

So polymer materials and products like those presented at the first plastics trade fair from 11. to 19. October 1952 in Düsseldorf were right in line with the trend. More than any other material, plastic was already considered back then to be a convincing all-rounder in all areas of life – and one that was comparatively inexpensive too. The organiser of the plastics trade fair, the Association of the German Plastics Processing Industry, had set itself the goal of presenting the many different applications for plastics in everyday and professional life at regular intervals. The industry not only had a promising market; it also boasted a large number of different companies: 270 exhibitors already participated in the first K in 1952. All of them were German companies initially, but the success of the first plastics trade fair inevitably paved the way for the subsequent internationalisation process.

Rubber soon joined plastics too

Rubber manufacturers and processors joined the plastics companies. The automotive industry and the companies that supplied it were an important application area even then: Dunlop, for example, launched an international innovation in October 1952 – the first “Mud & Snow” (M&S) tyre, which was supposed to make snow chains more or less superfluous in winter.

Rubber was the source of interesting anecdotes in 1952 too: Alain Bombard, for example, a French doctor and biologist, wanted to prove that shipwrecked castaways could survive at sea solely by taking advantage of what the ocean had to offer them. On 25. May, he left Monaco in a rubber boat to cross the Atlantic – allegedly without any food and freshwater on board. While the experiments that the scientist claimed to have carried out on himself (“raw fish every day, supplemented by drinking a little salt water”) were met with suspicion in professional circles, one this was undisputed: the rubber boat took Bombard across the Atlantic safety - the 28-year-old reached the island of Barbados on 24. December.

In 1952, the main processes for the production of the plastics that are still in frequent use today were known and the organisers of K succeeded in highlighting the polymer trends of the time for the first time in a way that attracted public attention. The exhibitors presented plastic tiles for the kitchen and bathroom, a rain cape that could be folded up or the indestructible plastic bottle – both interior design fans and outdoor activists found what they were looking for; camping was a major trend at the time. The manufacturers of synthetic clothing attracted the biggest crowds to their stands at the trade fair, however.