origin of the phrase "space age polymer"

Any synthetic substance which I cannot identify is a “space age polymer”. I just bought a new coat with a shell made of something vaguely suede-like. The label probably lists the components, but to me it will always be a space-age polymer.

I’m sure that phrase comes from the world of Infomercial Science. If I had to guess, I would say that one of the visionaries in the emply of Ron Popeil first coined the phrase. But, can we pinpoint its origin? I see a lot of joking uses of the phrase online, but nothing yet that ties it to a single originator. This might be one of those things that’s too generic to blame on one person, but I’m holding out hope that someone knows who unleashed this catchphrase and when.

(I started to put this in IMHO. I wasn’t sure if a definite answer is possible. If it’s better suited elsewhere, I have no objections to booting it.)

I can find a newspaper article talking about space age polymers in 1968. A few more from 1970.

I have an early tv memory of an advertisement with a guy(Art Baker? You Asked For It.) looking at a jet fighter and talking about the “space age plastic” that was the windshield? This would have been between 1960-66. At least, in my mind.

I don’t ever remember Popiel saying anything about such.

Added: I just now used “space age plastic” as a search term and got many more hits from 1963-1966.

Wow, that’s much earlier than I would have thought. I’ll try the newspaper search, too. I should have thought of that – the Cincy public library makes some good newspaper searching resources available online.

That’s very surrpising to me, I would have bet it was something from an 80’s-era infomercial. I was born in 73. My brother, who is a few years older than me, says this all the time. I just figured it was something that was prevalent when we were adolescents. Thanks for the information, samclem.

Why are you surprised by it being used in the 1960’s? That’s when people talked about being in the Space Age the most. By the 1980’s, it sounded a little out of date to talk about something new as being Space Age.

If they have Newspaper Archive, that’s what I used.

They have a few (General OneFile, MasterFile Premier, ProQuest), but it looks like most of them only go back to about 1970.

Using the NY Times historical search, the first use of phrase I can find is 1988, when it was used as a joke about Madonna in a humor article. Something about her being a synthetic, crushproof, engineered pop star.

But, Google Books turns up a reference to *The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science *, by Isaac Asimov and Northrop Frye, published in 1960. Unfortunately, the peek that you get on Google Books doesn’t give me much to go on, just these two sentences:

I wonder if it means much that the writers put the phrase in quotes. If they had put the phrase together themselves, its unlikely they would have drawn attention to their coinage by putting quotes around it. So, they must have gotten it from somewhere. On the other hand, it must not have really dug its way into the language yet – if it was a common phrase, there would have been no need to put the quotes around it. Maybe it was just then starting to make its way into the “Intelligent Man’s” vocabulary. Or, maybe I’m talking out of my ass.

Nope. You’re reading the meaning of the quote marks just as they were intended. Quite often, in reading newspaper articles from the late 1800s-early 1900s, you see the same thing, and it meant that the writer considered this a rather new word/phrase that people might not recognize. Good job on using Google Books. One of the great new resources out there.

I remember this from a commercial for Nu Finish, which was some kind of car wax made from the aforementioned “space age polymer”. I think it was in the 70’s. As I recall the ad it took place in a junk yard where the space age polymer rubbed onto the hood of a beat up car would magically return it’s original luster.

Probably not the first usage, but certainly the one I remember…

Bayard writes:

> The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science , by Isaac Asimov and Northrop Frye

This is really strange. Northrop Frye has nothing to do with this book. I know that online booksellers like Amazon sometimes add somebody utterly irrelevant to the list of authors of the book. I don’t know why Frye’s name was listed as author.

You know, that does ring a bell. I bet that’s the main source for the phrase’s prevalence in my brother’s and my language. Brother was a gearhead, and I bet he picked it up from that commercial. As you say, not the earliest usage, but probably what I was thinking of when I asked the question.

That is odd. I saw Frye’s name on the Google books page. I thought it was weird that he would have been in on the book, but if you look here, you’ll see Google is convinced he was co-author. Wiki doesn’t list it in his works, and it would be unusual for a literary critic to take time out to co-write a science book, so I guess it’s Google’s error.

A head’s up to you both. While Google Books is a great tool, they have a serious problem with dates. In this case, the book was originally written in 1960 by Asimov. No Frye. I think there was a 1965 reprint with Frye as co-author. I think that’s what we’re seeing.

I hear it in an Australian accent, probably from spending too many years watching Beyond 2000.

Once again, Northrop Frye had nothing to do with any edition of The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science. I don’t know why Google Books screwed this up. I’ve seen similar things with some online booksellers. One of them listed Garry Wills as a co-author of one of the books in the Goosebumps series. I was actually able to persuade them to fix that mistake.

That’s because by the 1980s, we were in the Information Age.