On December 2, 1941, a small group of men who would become the founders of the Society of Plastics Engineers met in Detroit, Michigan, to discuss whether or not they had a future in the Plastics Industry.
Five days later (on December 7, 1941), Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The next day America entered World War II.
That was a horrible war that killed or maimed almost half a million Americans, and irrevocably changed the lives of at least three times as many parents, siblings, wives, sweethearts, and businessmen who were counting on those boys coming back to work in their companies.
That terrible war also created the material shortages that gave the Plastics Industry the incentive to perfect its materials and processes in order to take its rightful place in the Great American stream of commerce.
The common interest that brought these SPE founders together on a cold December day was how to overcome their potential customers’ resistance to purchasing their still relatively new plastic materials.
These men were all salesmen, representing companies such as Celanese, Bakelite, Monsanto, and Tennessee Eastman. Chicago Molded Products, Mack Molding, and General Industries represented the Processing Industry.
During that meeting they agreed that they had to learn more about plastic technology in order to educate their customers about the capabilities and advantages of these new materials.
Developing an understanding of plastic technology was difficult in 1941. The Universities were not teaching plastic technology. There were few books or Industry publications, and there was no Society of Plastics Engineers. They concluded that their best opportunity to learn was from the shared experiences of other Plastics Industry salesmen.
In order to pursue their objective, they formed an organization called, The Society of Plastics Sales Engineers. They chose as their President, Fred Coneley, the Detroit sales representative of our own Chicago Molded Products.
Fred started inviting other plastics salesmen to join the Society of Plastics Sales Engineers. He quickly discovered that salesmen were not interested in joining an organization made up of competing salesmen.
During their second meeting on May 22, 1942, they changed their name to the Society of Plastics Engineers, or SPE. This opened up membership to virtually everyone associated with the Plastics Industry.
Their third meeting was held at Detroit’s Tam O’Shanter Country Club on August 19, 1942. By that time, they were incorporated as the Society of Plastics Engineers. They had 120 members. Their goal was still to sell plastic materials. Their plan was to achieve that goal through the distribution of plastics related technical information. They reasoned that if their customers understood more about plastic and its capabilities, they would not be able to resist buying it. History has proven them to be correct. Fifty years later membership in SPE topped out at 37,000 in 1992, and the Automotive Industry could not get along without plastic materials.
Detroit was chartered as the first SPE Section in 1942. In 1943, Detroit held the first ever Annual Technical Conference with 59 exhibitors. Attendance was 1,775 people.
In 1943 Chicago was charted as the second SPE Section. Chicago held SPE’s first Regional Technical Conference in 1943, with attendance of over 300.
I joined SPE in 1960. In 1965 I was elected to the Chicago Section’s Board of Directors. I served as President in 1968. Those were exciting times. Some Section meetings drew over 300 people.
Back then, the Chicago and Newark, New Jersey Sections were the two largest Sections in the Society. Today, the largest Section is Detroit, supported by the big Automation Industry. Detroit was the first Section, and maybe this is as it should be.
But what does that have to do with what we are doing here today?
SPE was chartered in the Tam O’Shanter Country Club after a round of golf, a few drinks, and a good dinner. Today we are holding an SPE meeting in a Country Club after a round of golf, a few drinks, and a good dinner.
Over the years we have seen many changes in SPE and the Plastics Industry. However, some things remain the same. The Industry still enjoys playing golf, drinking, and trying to educate the Industry.
In keeping with the growing need to educate the Industry, the SPE and the Society of Plastics Industry, or SPI (now the Plastics Industry Association, or PIA), got together in 1970 and created the Plastics Education Foundation. In 1980, SPE took responsibility for the whole Education Foundation.
In 2018, the Foundation donated $88,250 in scholarships, $64,645 in educational grants for a total of $152,895. This is a significant contribution to education. That is especially true when you consider that they donated about the same amount in 2016 and 2017, and will do so again in 2019, 2020, 2021, etc.
In 1996 the National Plastics Center and Museum in Leominster created the Plastivan Program that uses a positive approach to introduce 5 through 12 grade students to the wonders of plastics technology. 21,371 Students attended the Plastivan Program in 2018. For the past 4 years the Chicago Section has been promoting and raising funds to support the Plastivan Program to local schools. Our own Mark Wolverton is now teaching Plastivan Programs.
Visiting your local schools and telling them about your company and the Plastics Industry would be great. However, most of you will never do that. For $1,750 you can sponsor a Plastivan teacher to spend a day at a school in your local area. You can also share the cost with a friendly competitor or a supplier to cut that cost in half.
I joined the Chicago Section in 1960 and have remained active ever since. Over the years I have watched the Section contribute varying amounts of money to all kinds of local and national educational activities.
The Chicago Section’s Board of Directors has become aware that for the past few years we have not done as much as it could have for education. The Board has now decided to endow two scholarships for students pursuing a career in Plastics Technology or Engineering.
We considered establishing these endowed scholarships in local Universities in order to enrich the Illinois labor pool. Unfortunately, Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, and Illinois State University in Normal, no longer offer a full Plastics Technology curriculum. Both offer a few plastic courses as a part of their new Manufacturing Programs.
Northwestern University’s program is limited to Polymer Chemistry and Engineering. The Illinois Institute of Technology’s program is devoted to Plastics Materials Technology, with an emphasis on composite materials.
With none of the four Illinois Universities offering degrees in Plastics Technology or Engineering we had to broaden our search to:
Ferris State University at Big Rapids, Michigan
Pennsylvania College of Technology at Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Penn State University at Erie, Pennsylvania
University of Massachusetts Lowell at Lowell, Massachusetts
University of Wisconsin at Madison, Wisconsin
University of Wisconsin-Stout at Menomonie, Wisconsin
All six of these Universities have good Plastics Education Programs. They all tend to emphasize Material Technology, Injection Molding, Extrusion, and maybe Thermoform. Beyond that the programs differ.
All six give Bachelor’s Degrees, some have Master’s Programs. Three of them also offer Associate Degrees, or Certificates.
The Chicago Section has approved endowment scholarships at Ferris State University and Pennsylvania College of Technology.
The Pennsylvania College of Technology Endowment requires a minimum of $25,000.
The Ferris University Endowment requires a minimum of $12,500 which will be matched by the University for a minimum of $25,000. These funds will be invested by the Universities and the interest will fund the Scholarship in perpetuity. The average interest rate is around four percent. That yields $1,000 per year for the Scholarship.
It is not much, but it is $1,000 the student does not have to borrow.
The total cost for these two endowments will be a one-time investment of $37,500. That cost will be shared equally between the Chicago Section’s Education Foundation and the Section’s General Funds.
The recipients of these scholarships will be chosen by the University according to the criteria established by the Chicago Section. This eliminates any conflict of interest on the part of the Chicago Section Board of Directors.
If the Chicago Section approves of the way the University manages the program, the Section can add on to the principal when additional funds are available.
If the Chicago Section does not approve of how the program is managed, they will not make any additional contributions to the principal. However, the Scholarship will still be there supporting plastics education for ever and ever.
That Ladies and Gentlemen is a brief summary of how SPE became so deeply involved in trying to educate the Plastics Industry. Tonight, I have only told you about what SPE National and the Chicago Section have been doing. However, I want to point out that most of SPE’s Sections and Divisions have their own local educational project.
For example, our neighboring Section in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, invested $57,000 in education during the past year.