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Articles by Freelance writer David A. Taylor

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This story was originally published by Undark and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

In the closing months of World War II, Americans talked nonstop about how and when the war would end, and about how life was about to change. Germany would fall soon, people agreed on that. Opinions varied on how much longer the war in the Pacific would go on.

Amid the geopolitical turmoil, a small number of people and newspapers chattered about the dawn of another new age. A subtle shift was about to change the fabric of people’s lives: Cork was about to lose its dominance as a cornerstone of consumer manufacturing to a little-known synthetic substance called plastic.

In 1939, the future arrived at the World’s Fair in New York with the slogan: “The World of Tomorrow.” The fairground in Queens attracted 44 million people over two seasons, and two contenders laid claim to being the most modern industrial material: cork and plastic.

For decades, cork had been rising as the most flexible of materials; plastic was just an intriguing possibility. The manifold forms of cork products were featured everywhere, from an international Paris Exhibition ... Read more