If you have a Christmas tree up in your home this holiday season, you’ve might have gone the traditional route and decorated it with tinsel. And if you did, chances are that you probably ended up with some clinging to not just the tree, but also to you.
But did you know there is chemistry at work in that fun and festive holiday decoration?
Tinsel traces its origins back to Germany, where it was once made out of thin slivers of silver – very expensive silver at that! Having the tinsel be made of metal was key for the decorations luster and shine. But the high cost of the silver used meant that not everyone could afford it. So to make a more affordable option that more people could purchase, other metals like copper and aluminum began being used for tinsel.
During World War II, however, metal rationing and shortages sent tinsel makers into a frantic search for alternate materials that they could use to keep the shine alive in tinsel. They settled on a lead alloy. That didn’t last long though, because scientists in the 1960’s began to sound the alarm about the potential health risks that lead can possess.
Then in the 1970’s, chemistry was really put to work to keep the shine on our trees. Polyvinal Chloride (PVC) became the main material used to make the base layer of tinsel and some metallic material, like aluminum, is used for the gleaning outer layer.
As you enjoy the sparkle of the tinsel on your tree this holiday season, know that chemistry matters and helps make your holiday decorations shimmer and shine.