Cellophane is a thin, clear sheet of a polymer (plastic) made by forcing a form of cellulose known as viscose through a fine slit into an acid bath. The name comes from the word cellulose and the French word diaphane, which means transparent.
Products made from cellophane are familiar features of modern lifestyle and commerce. We see it every day in cellophane tape and wrapping material for foods, but cellophane has been around quite a long time. It was invented in 1908 by Swiss chemist named Jacques Brandenberger, who worked for a textile company. As with many important inventions of man, it was a bit of a mistake. Mssr. Brandeberger was first inspired to make a waterproof tablecloth after seeing a friend spill wine at dinner.
His efforts to waterproof cloth failed on the market, as the treated material was too stiff, but he discovered that the plastic film could be peeled off, leaving a transparent sheet. He worked for 10 years to implement a process and machinery to produce this thin, transparent material and patented the successful results. In 1919, cellophane was introduced to the market. It remained of limited use, however, because it was not a complete barrier to moisture or gases. A waterproof lacquer coating for cellophane was developed in 1927 to achieve a material that blocked both liquids and gases. That made cellophane much more useful, particularly as a wrap for foods.
Cellophane made another huge advance into the market in 1930, when cellophane tape was introduced. Dick Drew, who worked for the 3M corporation and had earlier invented masking tape, came up with the idea of putting adhesive on cellophane and made it a practical product. People found thousands of unimagined uses for Scotch Tape (tm), and we still do.
Today, other plastic wraps have replaced cellophane in many of its uses as a food wrap, especially in the home, because of the cool way the plastic clings to itself and other stuff. Cellophane is still used as the inner seal for bread and other products because it is easily sealed with heat. It is also making a comeback for more general use in these environmentally-conscious times. It is a carbohydrate and not a plastic, so it is completely biodegradable.
Some practical joker wondered why I didn't include the old 'cover the toilet bowl with cellophane and put the seat down' trick, but I would never do that.