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E5188 Samples of 'Galalithe' casein plastic products (44), mounted on display boards, 'casein plastic / cardboard / fabric / metal, made by Galalith Hoff & Co, Hamburg, Germany, 1933. Click to enlarge.

Samples of Casein plastic

These casein plastic products were made in 1933. Made from milk protein and formaldehyde and easily pigmented, casein was patented in Germany in 1899. It was one of several semi-synthetic plastics that initiated the plastics age in the nineteenth century.

Plastics have been described as "materials that can be moulded or shaped into different forms under pressure or heat." They were a cultural phenomenon in the twentieth century when they changed the way objects were produced, designed and …

Parts of this object


Object No.


Object Statement

Samples of 'Galalithe' casein plastic products (44), mounted on display boards, 'casein plastic / cardboard / fabric / metal, made by Galalith Hoff & Co, Hamburg, Germany, 1933

Physical Description

A selection of casein plastic samples including casein rods, showing finished articles and particulars regarding stage of manufacture.



Casein plastics are based on a protein found predominantly in milk, the word casein being derived from the Latin word 'caseus', which means cheese. They are often known as casein formaldehyde.

Casein plastic was patented in Germany in 1899 . It was produced in rods, or sheets, made into knitting needles, pen barrels, or stamped out into buttons and buckles, then hardened in a mixture of formaldehyde. These products could be easily dyed with whatever colours were fashionable at the time.

Casein plastic was first introduced to the world under the product name 'Galalithe' at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1900. In the following years the development process of casein plastics was undertaken by two companies: Vereinigten Gummivarenfabriken in Germany and Pellerin & Orosdi in France. These companies merged under the name International Galalithe Gesellschaft Hoff & Company, in 1904. The company developed a manufacturing process that used dried casein granules; this became the universal standard in processing casein and remained virtually unchanged throughout its history.

This 'dry process' involved using rennet casein, precipitated from skim milk, which was then dried and ground into a powder. The resulting powder was then mixed with water, colorants, and chemicals and extruded in a machine to produce sheets or rods. This process superseded a long, costly manufacturing process that used wet milk curds as the primary material.

This type of plastic is rarely manufactured in the 21st century due to its labour intensive manufacturing process and the development of cheaper and more easily made products. Some also say that the popularisation of dairy products added to the demise of casein plastics.

These sample boards show a wide variety of products, and different stages of manufacture of the casein plastic.

John Morgan, From Milk to Manicure Sets the Casein Process, in the Journal of the Plastics Historical Society, No. 1, Winter, 1988, pg 13
John Morgan, The Centenary of Casein, in the Journal of the Plastics Historical Society, No. 22, Summer, 1999, pg 6
M. Kaufman, The First Century of Plastics, The Plastics Institute, London, 1963. pg 55
Casein information sheet, Plastiquarian, available at:, 2008.

Written by Erika Dicker
Assistant Curator, March 2008.



These display boards were originally displayed in the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in the 1930s, to show the stages in the manufacture of casein plastic and its finished articles.

It is often perceived that plastics are a material of the twentieth century; however, its beginnings go back to eighteenth century Europe and conditions created by rapid industrialisation, scientific curiosity and opportunities to create great wealth through innovative and entrepreneurial ideas. Many of the semi-synthetic plastics of the nineteenth century and the synthetic plastics of the twentieth century were influenced by earlier manufacturing methods of making products out of natural plastics such as horn and tortoiseshell. The development of synthetic plastics, however, allowed for a product that was not subject to availability and fluctuating costs.

The Australian plastics processing industry began around 1917, growing significantly after World War Two. In 1939 production of plastics was around one thousand tonnes per year and fifty years later it had grown to around nine hundred thousand tonnes . New innovations in plastics, a rising population and increasing home ownership and household consumption were major influences on this growth. Today the plastics industry is one of Australia's largest manufacturing sectors.

Between 26 and 28 September 1934, the Sydney Technical College and the museum collaborated to develop what was advocated as the first Plastics Industry Exhibition in Australia. It is likely that this sample was displayed during this exhibition, along with the first permanent plastics display established at the museum. This exhibition was advocated as the first plastics exhibition in Australia. The museum contributed the majority of the exhibits, which included colourful moulded objects and synthetic resin powders. The highlight of the exhibition was a standard hydraulic press that produced synthetic resin objects while the audience watched. This was lent by John Heine and Son and run by staff from the College's Mechanical Engineering department. It utilised dies made by College students and synthetic moulding resin powders from local plastic companies. A Conversazione was held on the evening of 26th September, 1934 'to which prominent citizens, including representatives of the Plastics Industry were invited', and at which both Penfold and Dr N H Lang gave lectures on the plastics industry

A permanent display of plastics was established at the museum, and was described by the Sunday Telegraph as 'the best display of plastics and fibres in the world show(ing) the complete history of plastics from first experiments to the latest developments' . Penfold was greatly concerned with the technical and commercial development of local industries, such as the plastics industry, and believed that the museum was 'destined to play a conspicuous part in bringing Science to the aid of industry' through both research and display.

In December 1944 Penfold, along with Mr C H Hunt of Newcastle Technical College, was commissioned by the NSW Government to investigate overseas technological trends in the plastic industry, including the training of technical personnel, throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. On his return Penfold continued to promote the importance of Australia's development of a vigorous research and training program in developing local technical expertise arguing that: 'The field is so vast and the potentialities of plastics is so promising, that no effort should be spared to provide adequate training for all persons wishing to acquire a knowledge of these new materials' .

Chemlink Consultants, Australia's Chemical Industry - History and development, available at, accessed 08/08/2007.
Penfold, A. R., 'Reports on Plastics Investigation, 1945, in the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom', 31/10/1945
Penfold, A. R., paper, 'Recent Developments of Plastics Overseas', delivered before the Plastics Institute of Australia, NSW Section, 29/11/1945
Penfold, A. R., 'The Influence of Science Museums on Industry', read at the first Biannual Conference of International Council on Museums, 1948
Sunday Telegraph, 'For plastics he saw great things', 11/11/1945
Sydney Technological Museum, Annual Report, 1934


Credit Line

Presented by Messrs Galalith Hoff & Co, 1933

Acquisition Date

31 October 1933

Cite this Object


Samples of Casein plastic 2022, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 May 2022, <>


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