BIP – Pioneer in Plastics
holds a unique place in the history of plastics, worldwide.
Founded in 1894, it is the oldest polymer material
manufacturer in the UK, by far, and amongst the oldest
in the world. Its place in the history of plastics
was assured when its chemists patented the world’s
first ‘water-white’ thermoset resin in
In order to encourage wider use of this revolutionary
material - with the unusual tradename of Beetle® -
the company found it necessary to purchase its own
moulding plant, The Streetly Manufacturing Company
Limited in 1929. This thinking, and confidence, that “if
industry can’t supply what we want, then we’ll
make it ourselves” led, significantly, to the
setting up of its own tool making company, BIP Tools
Limited, in 1936 and, 13 years later, its own moulding
press manufacturing company BIP Engineering Limited.
By the mid-1950s, the extent and depth of BIP’s
involvement in the plastics moulding industry was considerable
and, without doubt, unique. Furthermore, its speciality
resins took the company into aircraft manufacture,
boat building, construction, iron foundries, the production
of furniture and wood laminates, paint manufacture,
paper treatment, textile finishing and building insulation.
All this from a ”small, smelly pot shed” beside
a canal in the English West Midlands.
BIP never enjoyed the benefits of large financial
resources, except for a period during its time as a
T&N subsidiary; the company’s troubles and
set-backs, particularly in the early years, were overcome
through a remarkable mix of enterprise, foresight,
inventive skill and, specifically on the part of its
work force, understanding. Its ability to survive and
its subsequent development, expansion and success can
be confidently put down to the skills, persistence
and devotion of its chemists, accountants, engineers
and leaders. Not the least of these was Kenneth Chance.
BIP owes its origin to activities far removed from
the production of synthetic resins and thermoset moulding
powders. In 1894 British Cyanides Limited was set up
to convert sulpho-cyanide directly into cyanide for
use, primarily, in the South African goldfields. This
market vanished with the outbreak of war in 1900. The
search for alternative outlets and research into new
materials and markets, headed by Kenneth
Glassey and Cyril
Dingley, led to the idea of converting
sulpho-cyanide into thiourea for use in vulcanizing
rubber and giving ‘rustle’ to silk. From
this, Edmund Rossiter conceived the idea of condensing
thiourea with formaldehyde to produce a water-white
By this same time, however, the company was facing
bankruptcy caused by many factors, primarily the fashion
swing from taffeta and the failure of the Government
to honour promises over the manufacture of potash.
The opportunity to display samples of the new water-white
resin at the Wembley Exhibition in 1925 was too good
to miss; it proved popular, with enquiries ranging
from the manufacture of wall plugs to french polishing.
A quick and profitable return was essential, however,
and this was to come from the decision to concentrate
on the production of moulding powders; in 1926 the
world’s first white commercial moulding powder
was produced by BIP (then still British Cyanides) at
Oldbury in the English West Midlands.
This opened up new opportunities for designers and
new applications, notably for electrical accessories
and tableware - more picnicware in those days. Unlike
the established thermoset moulding powders based on
the straw-coloured phenolic resins, Beetle® urea
resins did not taste.
With the moulding properties of the new Beetle® powder
improving, an important step towards promoting the
material’s potential came with the display of
mouldings at London’s Harrods store in 1926.
In his The Story Of BIP published in 1962, Cyril
Dingley described this as “the turning point” for
the company. He had, himself, been instrumental in
persuading Harrods to display “the new and colourful” cups
and saucers manufactured by three different moulders.
It was an immediate success.
One of the three moulders whose products were on show
at Harrods was The Streetly Manufacturing Company (SMC).
The firm was purchased by the company in 1929 and,
whilst SMC continued to operate as a trade moulder,
its facilities and the skills of its staff would be
essential to the development of amino mouldings materials
and BIP itself.
“So well launched into the plastics industry” the
company changed its name to British Industrial Plastics
Limited in 1936; Amongst its Board of Directors were
Kenneth Chance (Chairman and Managing Director), Charles
Glassey and Sam White.
Also in 1936, SMC’s toolroom and its Works Manager
Fred Mills Senior were moved to a purpose-built factory
on what would now be known as a ‘green-field’ site
close to Birmingham. Refined mould design techniques
produced better mouldings and BIP Tools Limited was
created to employ those techniques in designing and
producing the moulds.
In parallel with its development of moulding powders,
BIP was successfully developing its Beetle® amino
resins for the treatment of textiles and paper; these
were followed by uses in manufacturing paint, as wood
glues and for core binding in the foundry industry.
The late 1940s saw the manufacture of melamine formaldehyde
resins and moulding powder commence at Oldbury, resulting
from the long-standing technical liaison between BIP
and its original amino resin licencees in the USA.
In 1949, John Beard (Managing
Director of SMC) saw the need and wisdom of BIP once
it alone’. BIP Engineering Limited was created
to build the Bipel® press - a new design which
existing press manufacturers had turned down - in its
at Streetly Works.
In addition to its, by now, increasing number of overseas
agents and distributors, BIP had, from the early years
of moulding powder manufacture, created sales and manufacturing
subsidiaries and associate companies in other countries.
At one time or another the list included Beetle-Elliott
in Australia, Bipel Maschinen in Germany, Materiales
Moldeables in Mexico, British Industrial Plastics (S.A.)
(Pty) in South Africa and BIPEL International Inc in
By 1961 BIP was significant, if not dominant, as a
manufacturer in all of its various products, it had
a flourishing export market and owned a number of overseas
subsidiaries; it was, inevitably, ripe for take-over.
This occurred in 1961 when the building industry giant
Turner & Newall (T&N) purchased the entire
With its acquisition of BIP, T&N stated that it
had “manifested its faith in the future of plastics”;
in the same statement it was recognising “a number
of reciprocal advantages” in the move. For some
years BIP certainly benefited from investment and subsequently,
through the attachment of four one-time factories of
BXL following a T&N purchase in 1973, found its
payroll doubled to 5,500.
By 1995, however, much of the BIP manufacturing ‘empire’ had
been closed down or sold. What remained were just the
Oldbury factories, all in dire need of investment and
a senior management with a positive view for the long-term
Finance from the Advent Group and ‘the new broom’ attitude
of a completely new management team brought hope; it
also introduced a degree of lateral thinking, which
identified new, if highly specialised, markets. Outside
factors, in particular the strength of the pound sterling
and the short-term expectations of investors, proved
too much with the result that further disposals – the
manufacture of both polyester resins and coating resins – took
place together with a recently purchased specialised
manufacturing plant in Cheshire. The one beneficiary
was the Engineering Thermoplastics operation, now on
a separate site at Oldbury, where some modest investment
had been made.
Much of the information and all of the direct quotations
appearing in this History of BIP, compiled by Mike
Butler, have been taken from a series of publications
produced by BIP. They include Beetle Magazine, published
between 1935 and 1953, Growth of a Group written by
Charley Glassey and published in the late 1940s, The
Story of BIP written by Cyril
Dingley and published
in 1962 and Beetle Bulletin published for over 30 years
commencing in 1951. We are also indebted to The First
Fifty Years, published by Turner & Newall, and
Plastiquarian, published by The Plastics Historical
Our historian, Mike Butler (b.1933) was apprentice
at The Streetly Manufacturing Company and worked within
different subsidiaries and departments of BIP for 28