Polystyrene was discovered in 1839 by Eduard Simon, an apothecary from Berlin. From storax, the resin of the American sweetgum tree Liquidambar styraciflua, he distilled an oily substance, a monomer that he named styrol. Several days later, Simon found that the styrol had thickened into a jelly he dubbed styrol oxide ("Styroloxyd") because he presumed an oxidation.
By 1845 Jamaican-born chemist John Buddle Blyth and German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann showed that the same transformation of styrol took place in the absence of oxygen. They called the product "metastyrol"; analysis showed that it was chemically identical to Simon's Styroloxyd. In 1866 Marcelin Berthelot correctly identified the formation of metastyrol/Styroloxyd from styrol as a polymerization process. About 80 years later it was realized that heating of styrol starts a chain reaction that produces macromolecules, following the thesis of German organic chemist Hermann Staudinger (1881–1965). This eventually led to the substance receiving its present name, polystyrene.
The company I. G. Farben began manufacturing polystyrene in Ludwigshafen, about 1931, hoping it would be a suitable replacement for die-cast zinc in many applications. Success was achieved when they developed a reactor vessel that extruded polystyrene through a heated tube and cutter, producing polystyrene in pellet form.
In 1941, Dow Chemical invented a Styrofoam process.
Before 1949, the chemical engineer Fritz Stastny (1908–1985) developed pre-expanded PS beads by incorporating aliphatic hydrocarbons, such as pentane. These beads are the raw material for moulding parts or extruding sheets. BASF and Stastny applied for a patent that was issued in 1949. The moulding process was demonstrated at the Kunststoff Messe 1952 in Düsseldorf. Products were named Styropor.
The crystal structure of isotactic polystyrene was reported by Giulio Natta.
In 1954, the Koppers Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, developed expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam under the trade name Dylite.
In 1960, Dart Container, the largest manufacturer of foam cups, shipped their first order.
In 1988, the first U.S. ban of general polystyrene foam was enacted in Berkeley, California.
However, the polystyrene are disposable, which can easily become the white pollution, so foam recycling is very necessary to protect our environment. And then we can reuse it to do some other products.