What is Melmac?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Melmac is the name for plastic dinnerware that was created with the use of melamine. First developed in the 1940s, melamine resin is easily molded into a number of different shapes and is extremely durable. During the middle of the 20th century, melmac dinnerware could be found in just about every home in the United States, owing to the low cost and easy care of the dishes.

Melmac dinnerware.
Melmac dinnerware.

In construction, melmac is used for just about any type of dinnerware; serving bowls were common, as well as plates, cups, and glasses. Any type of color pigment could be added to the melamine during the molding process. As a result, dinnerware was created in a number of colors and patterns. During the 1950s, solid but somewhat muted colors such as seafoam or pea green were popular. The 1960s saw the creation of many interesting color combinations, including some that reflected the psychedelic look that was so popular in fashion during the latter part of the decade.

Melmac dish ware is often used at cookouts.
Melmac dish ware is often used at cookouts.

Along with use in the home, melmac was often used in school cafeterias. Utilizing a round or rectangular design, melmac trays were often divided into sections that made it possible to easily place each entree, vegetable, and dessert into place while going through the line. Many designs even included a slot that was ideal for the placement of a half-pint of milk or a coffee cup.

One of the main attributes of melmac is the durability. The lightweight plastic construction holds up very well, although the surface of the dishes does tend to scratch with relative ease. The dinnerware can be washed by hand or placed in a dishwasher with equal ease. Unlike china, ceramic or glass, Melmac does not shatter when dropped. Households with children found it to be ideal for use at informal family dinners as well as with cookouts in the back yard.

By the end of the 1970s, melmac had declined in popularity as other forms of crockery began to appear. Still, the sturdiness of the dinnerware has meant that many pieces manufactured decades ago still survive. Collectors can find the dishes at many online auctions sites. Yard and estate sales are excellent sources of melmac at low prices. While no longer in common use in a lot of household situations, it has begun to achieve a certain distinction as a decorative item, especially in kitchens that are designed around a 1950 or '60 theme.

Collectors can find melmac dishes at many online auctions sites.
Collectors can find melmac dishes at many online auctions sites.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Have you seen the Melmac Central site all this one chick does is talk about dishes and plastics? She should be joining up with wisegeek. But seriously, I can see why it brings back memories. Grandma had some nasty old brown melmac.


I forgot to add to my previous post that our divided lunch trays in the school cafeteria were also Melmac (a brand name of Melamine) and I ate my lunch every day directly from them (both hot and cold foods) during the school year for at least 10 years of my growing up during the 50's and 60's.


Can Melmac dishes endure below freezing temperatures if stored in outside storage buildings.


Melmac is where ALF is from.


I've got some 1980's stainless flatware with melmac handles: some ivory, some yellow. Many of them (bought as-is online) have a caramel discoloration (that is strongest on the edge abutting the metal, and along the two fused longitudinal joints, and on the extreme end of the handles).

Anybody have any ideas about what would cause melmac to do that? (If it's heat, how much, and from what source... a too-hot dishwasher? an oven?) I rather like that mottling effect of the light caramel; when it's fairly minor, it mellows the rather harsh primary colors of the brand-new originals.

So I'd like to know if there's a way I could foster a little of that caramel effect on some other handles that are still really bright colors, to mellow them down a tad, yet without affecting the "health" or longevity of the plastic, (or accidentally creating too dark a shade of caramel).


So that's why it lost its popularity. Microwaves and dishwashers came along.


To relieve you of that inconvenient resistance to cracking or shattering problem, just leave melmac in the arizona summer sun for six months. It will be a goner.


I have been told that it can be harmful or there is some reaction or caustic/toxic chemical if you heat the melmac in the microwave. Is there any truths to this?


One caveat about Melmac- don't use it in the microwave- it will break!

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