Alexander Parkes was born in 1813, the fourth of 8 children. He was apprenticed to a brass founders, later joining Elkington, Mason & Co. as manager of a casting department. A prolific inventor, he took out more than 80 patents, mostly related to metallurgy.
He had 8 children by his first wife, remarrying after her death, his second wife giving him a further 12 children.
An interest in the newly formed rubber industry led to patents in 1846 concerning 'cold' vulcanisation and waste rubber reclamation.
He introduced a new material which he called Parkesine at the 1862 International Exhibition in London and for which he was awarded a prize medal. Parkesine was based on cellulose nitrate and for it he anticipated many of the subsequent uses of plastics.
The Parkesine Company was established at Hackney Wick in London in 1866 with the aim of supplying Parkesine in quantity at a cost much below that of India rubber or gutta percha.
The company was not successful, partly because of attempts to keep the price under a shilling a pound, and the company was liquidated in 1868. Nevertheless Parkes had laid the foundations from which others would successfully develop cellulose nitrate plastics - notably Celluloid developed by Hyatt in USA