Polyurethanes were invented back in the 1930s by Professor Dr. Otto Bayer (1902-1982). There are various types of polyurethanes, which look and feel very different from each other. They are used in a diversity of products, from coatings and adhesives to shoe soles, mattresses and foam insulation. However, the basic chemistry of each type is essentially the same.

Widespread use of polyurethanes was first seen during World War II, when they were utilised as a replacement for rubber, which at the time was expensive and hard to obtain. During the war, other applications were developed, largely involving coatings of different kinds, from aeroplane finishes to resistant clothing.

By the 1950s, polyurethanes were being used in adhesives, elastomers and rigid foams and, in the latter part of the same decade, flexible cushioning foams similar to those used today.

Subsequent decades saw many further developments and today we are surrounded by polyurethane applications in every aspect of our everyday lives. While polyurethane is a product that most people are not overly familiar with, as it is generally 'hidden' behind covers or surfaces made of other materials, it would be hard to imagine life without polyurethanes.

Click here for a timeline of polyurethane development.