The New Zealander Edmund Hillary conquers Mount Everest for the first time together with Sherpa Tensing Norgay, and Elizabeth II is crowned Queen of England. Those were two of the main news items that made the headlines in 1953. But there was another event in that year that has since affected our day-to-day lives to a much greater extent. It passed almost unobserved, except in specialist circles: A Bayer chemist, Dr. Hermann Schnell, invented a new class of plastic called polycarbonates.
Hermann Schnell, working at Bayer's Central Scientific Laboratory in Uerdingen, succeeded in synthesizing Makrolon® more or less at the first attempt. He had arrived there only two months earlier from Bayer's headquarters in Leverkusen and had been looking for a new field of study. He began by reading through the laboratory reports from the previous few years and examining a summary of the production processes at the plant. He came across a chemical reaction in which he immediately recognized that all he needed to do to produce a plastic was replace one of the substances by another. Later, the Bayer chemist attributed his rapid success among other things to an ability to „combine various things, create links and to put different pieces of information into a logical order".
Even his colleagues in Uerdingen did not initially believe that Schnell would be successful with these experiments. They thought along the same lines as generations of chemists before them: Carbonates (the class of substances to which Makrolon® belongs) are sensitive to heat and decompose easily. "This preconception caused considerable problems for me in the development of polycarbonate," said Schnell on one occasion. Just how much energy and persistence Schnell put into achieving his aims is reflected in one of his statements: "It is not enough to invent something. You also have to realize that you have invented something. And you have to fight to get your invention accepted in the face of all subsequent obstacles." Bayer had Makrolon® patented in the year it was invented.