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I love how many technologies became famous for reasons having very little to do with their invention. That's one of the niftiest things about studying the history of invention: inadvertant applications.

Today, I learned that celluloid was invented in order to produce cheap billiard balls, as the price of ivory made them increasingly unaffordable in the late nineteenth century. Later experimentation made movie film possible. But first, there were billiard balls.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 16th, 2008 04:47 pm (UTC)
That is indeed an extremely nifty factoid!
Apr. 16th, 2008 04:52 pm (UTC)
I discovered today (ODNB Life of the Day) that Rosalind Franklin initially started learning X-Ray diffraction techniques for her work on coke with the Coal Utilisation Research Board!

Edited at 2008-04-16 04:52 pm (UTC)
Apr. 17th, 2008 06:18 pm (UTC)
That's unexpected!
Apr. 16th, 2008 04:56 pm (UTC)
I love it--two vices from one invention! (I want to make up a parody of "Trouble in River City" here about how billiards *and* movies will corrupt you, but don't have the brain power so far.)
Apr. 16th, 2008 05:47 pm (UTC)
Not only were they used for billiard balls first, but I seem to remember vaguely from science lesseons a long time ago that they didn't make very good billiard balls as they had a tendency to explode when the balls collided.
Apr. 16th, 2008 06:03 pm (UTC)
Truth! When they got old and had been used a while they got unstable and when a macho man would bang a shot too hard, a pound or so of celluloid (nitro-cellulose) would detonate, sometimes killing the players.
Also celluloid was used to make button-on shirt cuffs and collars so a shirt would last longer and need less washing.
The stuff wasn't very stable, so as a film base it had a very limited lifespan.
Apr. 16th, 2008 10:14 pm (UTC)
Awesome. I want exploding billiard balls.
Apr. 17th, 2008 12:02 am (UTC)
They covered billiard ball explosions in one of the Connections series.
Apr. 17th, 2008 10:25 pm (UTC)
And Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. has exploding billiard balls on celluloid!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )