Passing of a True Pioneer in Plastics
11. August 2015
I pretty much knew I was missing my flight when I turned my rental car out of Blackwell Plastics’ factory in Houston’s Third Ward that late afternoon in February 2010, but after such a great tour, I really didn’t care.
My host that day was L.D. Blackwell, whose enthusiasm for plastics, after 71 years working in it, and life, with 85 years under his belt, was infectious. My other guide, Jeff Applegate, who was then president of Blackwell but has since left the company, knew my schedule and had been gently nudging L.D. to wrap up his tour but to no avail. I learned today that L.D. passed away on August 9 at the age of 89.
Over the decades, many part designs crossed over L.D.’s desk, with many of those coming from would-be inventors hoping the new, emerging material class of plastics could help make their napkin-sketch doodle a mass-produced reality. All those parts and products had a story, and L.D. shared many of them with me that day, retelling the development of everything from the first weed eater to an innovative wine opener (one of which I still have) and even components on the first heart bypass pump (the University of Houston medical center’s sprawling campus is just minutes from Blackwell).
The inventor that jumpstarted it all for L.D. was his father, L.A. Blackwell, whose concept of a slip cork insert for fishing became the father and son team’s first product, with L.D. deciding early on to switch it from wood to plastic while he was still a teenager. The only interruption in his plastics manufacturing career—a two year stint in the Air Force during World War II.
I wound up meeting L.D. and learning Blackwell’s story almost by accident. Attending the Society of Plastics Engineers annual Polyolefin Conference in Houston that year, I struck up a conversation with Applegate over lunch, who convinced me to take an afternoon to visit Blackwell, largely on the basis of his description of L.D.
I pulled into the rental car return at George Bush Intercontinental Airport around the time my plane backed away from its gate, thinking less about my missed flight and more about the incredible history just shared with me. Despite the extra night in Houston, I’m grateful I got the chance to tell L.D.’s story and know he will be missed in plastics and the Houston community (pictured below, L.D. in he and his father's shop, photo courtesy Blackwell Plastics.)