The 1800’s and the Invention of Vinyl

Up until the 1800’s, there was very little interest in resilient materials such as rubber. In 1845 though, linoleum was invented, and by the end of the century rubber locking tiles were growing in popularity. In 1926 vinyl was invented, known as Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), by Waldo Semon, who stumbled upon the discovery while attempting to develop a new type of adhesive for the BF Goodrich Company. Following its discovery, vinyl was widely used for items like golf balls and the heels of shoes. In 1933, the first Vinyl Composition Tile (VCT), the first instance of vinyl flooring, was introduced to the general public at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. Experiments with vinyl saw it used in everything from flooring to raincoats, and it was praised for its durability and relatively low cost in comparison to materials such as cork.

Vinyl’s Use in WWII

In WWII vinyl was experimented with for its potential as an alternative to rubber, but it didn’t gain much market traction due to the scarcity of materials such as petroleum, which is needed to manufacture vinyl. Still, many vinyl manufacturers contributed their services and products to the war effort. Vinyl wire coating replaced rubber insulated wire on US warships, for example. Vinyl was also utilized by the Germans, who developed PVC piping to make up for their own shortages. With all the development to the material brought about by the war, by the time peace returned vinyl was ready to return to prominence with renewed popularity.

The 1950’s through the 1970’s

Vinyl surged to popularity in the 50’s, due to its durability, flame resistance, and versatility. As news about the flexibility of vinyl spread, the material was used across all sorts of industries, and the use of vinyl flooring picked up in places like hospitals and schools, where its resilience and cost effectiveness were most appreciated. After catching on in commercial spaces, vinyl flooring slowly came to be introduced in residential homes, where its use exploded in the 1960’s. The 60’s were the golden era of vinyl flooring, and it was used all over. In 1950 vinyl production reached 222,000 tons a year, but by the end of the 1960’s, millions of tons were being produced per year. In the 1970’s vinyl planking was invented, so that vinyl flooring could mimic the look of hardwood floors.

The 1980’s and the Asbestos Crisis

Up until the 1980’s, vinyl, along with many other building materials, was commonly made with asbestos. Asbestos inhalation can have serious health consequences, leading to diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. In the 1970’s, knowledge about the harm caused by asbestos began to come to light, and in the 1980’s manufacturers phased out the use of asbestos in vinyl flooring.

Vinyl Flooring Today

Today, vinyl is the second largest-selling plastic in the world, and the US vinyl industry alone employs around 100,000 people. Vinyl flooring has made a return to prominence with the introduction of Luxury Vinyl Tile, which allows vinyl floors to have a huge range of diversity, able to mimic tile, stone, or hardwood. In 2012, industry sales of luxury vinyl tile reached $500 million. Vinyl is now available as a waterproof flooring option and remains popular for its low cost and durability. Developments and experiments with vinyl continue to this day, with the most recent effort being to lower the amount of PVC used in vinyl flooring, in order to reduce the release of Volatile Organic Compounds. Most vinyl manufactured after 2010 has very low PVC levels. We hope you’ve enjoyed the story of vinyl just as much as us here at Floor Coverings International of Hillsborough, NJ!