A Map of Synthetica, A New Continent of Plastics

A 1940 map of a fictional continent slightly resembling South America, symbolising different aspects of the new and exciting world of plastics

“On this broad but synthetic continent of plastics, the countries march right out of the natural world – that wild area of firs and rubber plantations, upper left – into the illimitable world of the molecule. It’s a world boxed only by the cardinal points of the chemical compass – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen.”


• “It floats upon a Sea of Glass, one of the oldest plastics known.”

• “New countries, like Melamine, constantly bulge from its coastline.”

• “The Alkyd country, a great swamp of height, impervious plastic paints, varnishes, and lacquers, creeps out like an implacable sargasso.”

• “Great chemical river systems, like the Acetylene, feed many countries. And boundaries are as unsteady as the maps of Europe.”

• “Lignin, the dark forest in the North, gives forth a new plastic made of the adhesive matter holding cellulose fibers together in wood.”

• “Petrolia is the land of the new synthetic rubbers.”

• “Cellulose is a great state, something like Texas, with many counties, all of which grew out of old Nitrocellulose (Celluloid).”

• “Rayon is a plastic island off the Cellulose coast, with a glittering night life.”

• “Vinyl-land, a fast-growing new country of safety-glass (…) and rubbery plastics, will probably subdivide soon.”

• “The Crystal Mountains of Acrylic (price elevation: 52,50 a pound) rund down into the Crystal Hills of Styrene – both brilliant new plastics with glandlike properties.”

• “The greatest plastic country of all – a heavy industrial region of coal-car chemicals led by Formaldehyde River – is Phenolic. Its hard-working plastics, in a sober Quaker dress of limited colors, go into most of industry. Capital: Bakelite, ruled Union Carbide & Carbon Corp.”

• “To the south is Urea, related to the (…), but a more frivolous and color-loving state. Its main industries are buttons, tableware, light globes.”

Strange Maps #175

This remarkable map appeared in the issue of Fortune Magazine for October 1940. Slightly resembling South America, a continent of fictional lands each symbolising different aspects of the then still new and exciting world of plastics is shown, floating on a sea of glass. The map was found here at fulltable.

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