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Started by, September 28, 2011, 12:46:49 PM

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There are three kinds of Tenite: Tenite acetate, Tenite butyrate and Tenite propinate. Any one know which one was used by WECo to produce "soft plastic" telephones?



Here's a pdf of a brochure that has a table (near the end) showing the three kinds of Tenite and what's made out of it. It's rather confusing because there are many varieties of the three kinds of Tenite. The brochure also seems to imply that those clear Craftsman screwdriver handles are made from Tenite, as well as sunglasses, pens, aglets (shoelace tips), eyebrow pencils, golf clubs and LED car taillights.

One of us (I vote for Dennis) could call 1-800-EASTMAN, preferably from a soft plastic phone, and ask them.  :)

I was amazed to read this article (link below). They are making protective covers for iPhones out of Tenite. It says those plastics have a distinct feel and scent. Oh brother, do they! I would hope not the cheesy soft plastic smell.
To answer Chuck's question, if I had to guess, since it came out in 1938. I would guess Tenite Butyrate because Butyl rubber is flexible like soft plastic. And it's Butyful.  :D


I think you are right: Tenite Butyrate. After I posted the question I did a search on the Forum. I found a 2009 posting by Dan that states soft plastic is Tenite Butyrate and the characteristic smell comes from butyric acid. A general search on that term does lead to cheesy smell descriptions. Let me know what they tell Dennis when he calls.


Dennis Markham

Dennis has enough on his plate and doesn't need any assignments.  I designate Jonathan as my trusted helper to make the phone call.  Thanks Jonathan. :)


I think it's probably fruitless, considering the time that's elapsed, but I'll see if I can get the straight poop on SP from Eastman and report back. Maybe they can transfer me to Pops, who was there 50 years ago?  :)


Here's my vote for the butyrate form.  Butanol is an alcohol that has been proposed as a motor fuel.  The production process for it is said to be particularly smelly.  The alcohol produces whatever-it-is as a byproduct, and the plastic probably uses something similar as an ingredient. 

Question is, what made the acetate form of tenite unacceptable for phone housings?

And, how could it have been missed in the testing stage, that this stuff would eventually produce a smell that would suggest something was dirty in a home or office? 

What's surprising is that the butyrate form is still being offered for use in consumer goods applications.  If the stuff breaks down over time and stinks up a storm, that would be a highly not-good brand image.  Oh, but they also offer _scented_ plastics too!  Yes, presumably to offset the cheesy smell!  Lime, jasmine, blah blah blah.... but really now, what about _wine_ scent?  Wine & cheese, anyone? 


OK, I called Eastman, and it has to be somewhere in Tennessee, so my being able to speak Southern helped. :) Dennis, you were right all along! They certainly are helpful and friendly at Eastman. In this day and time that's refreshing.

I spoke with Tammy in the Polymers Dept. and she discussed it with "the girls" and the consensus was that soft plastic is Tenite Butyrate because of the smell. I described the cheesy smell to her and she agreed that was it. She said it couldn't be Tenite Acetate anyway (why, I don't know) and of the other two, only Butyrate had a smell. So I guess the mystery is solved and we all came to the same conclusion, but by different means.

And for what it's worth, I think they pronounce it Ten-ite, and not Tee-nite. Like the number ten.

So would anyone like to guess what it smelled like in this room at the Indianapolis plant in 1958? The picture is scanned from a WE magazine article about the plant.

Dennis Markham

Thank you, Jonathan for making that phone call.    The right man for the right job.  Could you imagine stumbling on a pallet of soft plastic housings like those in the photo?  Pretty amazing.


Thank you for confirming it is Tenite Butyrate versus the other two varieties. This leads to using the right mix of solvents for dip polishing in accordance with the Eastman paper I posted two or three months ago.



Tennessee Eastman is  or was located in Kingsport TN.My grandfather worked there mid 1930s until 1970. There are good ads in Modern Plastic magazine.Tenite was used to replace matal during WWll.
exzamples are tenite bugels and microphone cases. They thought about making coins out of tenite but mads some test ones and that was it.


Quote from: jsowers on September 29, 2011, 04:41:44 PM

So would anyone like to guess what it smelled like in this room at the Indianapolis plant in 1958? The picture is scanned from a WE magazine article about the plant.

Great photo!

Is that heaven? :)


Jonathan, that room probably didn't stink because the plastic probably didn't stink when it was new.  I suspect that the cheesy smell occurs as the stuff ages, possibly as a result of an interaction with ultraviolet light, or possibly as an interaction with something in the air, or possibly it just breaks down over time. 

For conventional consumer goods with short lifespans, this wouldn't matter.  For objects designed to last a half century or longer, it may have been entirely unforeseen. 

Now imagine stumbling on an entire pallet of _gray_ ones.  Properly preserved so you wouldn't need a nuke suit to get near 'em. 

Sooner or later one of us around here is going to find a chemical that can be applied to the plastic to stop the smell. 


I only have one soft plastic 500 and have not detected any odor from it.  Tenite was used in automobiles in the late 30's-early 40's, Buick was a big user of it.

A friend works in a speedometer restoration shop  and at times gets some that are very "aromatic" to say the least. The Ivory colored ones seemed to be the worst, a sour milk/vomit mixture at least to my nose.


I know this is an old thread but I just came across a Bell Labs Record on Color 500 telephone sets on TCI. In talking about manufacture it mentions that on color handsets cellulose acetate butyrate was used

11443-56jul-blr-p252-color-telephones-500-type (TCI library document)

Jim Stettler

Quote from: Stormcrash on July 24, 2020, 03:11:51 PM
In talking about manufacture it mentions that on color handsets cellulose acetate butyrate was used

11443-56jul-blr-p252-color-telephones-500-type (TCI library document)
From reading thru this article it mentions that the color sets start out as water-white plastic that has been  pigmented with the color.
I take this to mean the early clear F# 500 sets are un-tinted color sets.
In comparison on clear 302's they can be a regular 302 with a clear housing and handset, or they can be clear color 302's. The  clear color sets have  hollow clear  plungers and white base dial. Basically a color 302 with a clear housing and handset.
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