Thursday, March 13, 2008


It seems a strange and fabulous thing to me that the
Formica Corporation of America should now be owned
by the New Zealand company Fletcher Building. This
wonderment at a prosaic commercial arrangement
almost certainly reflects the fact that I grew up in a
sheltered time (the 1950s) when Formica was one of
those substances or products, like Technicolor or 45 rpm
records, bestowed on New Zealand by the great world
beyond—products, clearly, of a technologically superior
civilization. All that was modern and most advanced
came from over the seas; or so it seemed to a child of
that time in a provincial New Zealand town. The idea that
an American corporation could be owned by a New
Zealand company was virtually inconceivable: the world
just didn’t work that way.

For a laminated surfacing material, Formica has had
ubiquitous success: so much so that in common usage it
often loses its capital letter. As with tarmac or velcro, the
brand-name has come to define the type of product.

Thanks to a quick Wikipedia check, I learn that the name
was derived by its inventors (in 1912) from the words
“for mica,” the mineral previously used in laminates.
How obvious that now seems; yet I never saw it before.
There you go. It also took years before it dawned on me
how the Beatles got their name.

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