Plastic Pageants

Producers actively promoted the benefits of their new plastic products to the public. Here, a demonstration of how Saran Wrap protects food.

Dow Historical Collection, Chemical Heritage Foundation Archives.

After World War II plastics became increasingly common in all aspects of daily life. People wore plastics, sat on plastics, ate off plastics, and played with plastics. But not all of these plastic items lived up to expectations, and the word plastics quickly became associated with images of cheap, breakable replacements. This attitude failed to consider all the wonderful new applications of plastics, and it also failed to reflect actual behavior. People bought more and more plastic each year, even while they complained about plastics!

Dow Historical Collection, Chemical Heritage Foundation Archives.

The plastics industry wanted people to love plastics, and they promoted their products through any means possible—including beauty pageants. In 1955 Dow Chemical crowned a “Miss Saran Wrap” to promote the company’s plastic wrap. A picture of Miss Saran Wrap 1955 in her Saran Wrap dress appeared in The Bridewell, a Dow trade publication, with a caption praising her dress, its Dow creators, and her husband’s association with Dow.  

Though the Miss Saran Wrap contest seems to have been a Dow-only event hosted at its Midland, Michigan, headquarters, it surely provided some good promotion (and fun) for Dow employees. And it was only one piece of an intense marketing campaign to promote the life-changing benefits of Saran Wrap. Dow had to convince the public that its product was more than cheap plastic: it was a valuable new item for anything from food preservation to dresses.

Dow wasn’t the only plastic promoter to use beauty queens. Trade organizations like the Society for the Plastics Industry also used pageantry to help people understand the benefits of plastics. In 1968 the plastics industry selected a “Princess of Plastics” to celebrate the 100th anniversary of synthetic plastics. Esther Dadigan traveled around the country in an outfit made entirely of plastics and shared her treasure chest of plastic items with the public. As Princess of Plastics, Dadigan’s role was to show people the past, present, and future benefits of plastics; emphasize the incredible ways plastic had changed their lives; and inspire positive feelings toward the plastic industry. 

Posted In: Industry

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