February 6th, 1909 – The Age of Plastics

Today-In-History

Bakelite, or polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, is an early plastic. It is a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin, formed from a condensation reaction of phenol with formaldehyde. It was developed by Belgian-born chemist Leo Baekeland in New York in 1907, but not officially announced until February 6th, 1909.

Bakelite Radio 680

A radio casing made from Bakelite

One of the first plastics made from synthetic components, Bakelite was used for its electrical nonconductivity and heat-resistant properties in electrical insulators, radio and telephone casings, and such diverse products as kitchenware, jewelry, pipe stems, children’s toys, and firearms. The “retro” appeal of old Bakelite products has made them collectible.

Leo_Hendrik_Baekeland,_1916

Leo Henricus Arthur Baekeland FRSE(Hon) (November 14th, 1863 – February 23rd, 1944)

Having been successful with Velox, Baekeland set out to find another promising area for chemical development. As he had done with Velox, he looked for a problem that offered “the best chance for the quickest possible results”. Asked why he entered the field of synthetic resins, Baekeland answered that his intention was to make money. 

The invention of Bakelite marks the beginning of the age of plastics. Bakelite was the first plastic invented that retained its shape after being heated. Radios, telephones and electrical insulators were made of Bakelite because of its excellent electrical insulation and heat-resistance. Soon its applications spread to most branches of industry.

At Baekeland’s death in 1944, the world production of Bakelite was ca. 175000tons, and it was used in over 15000 different products. He held more than 100 patents, including processes for the separation of copper and cadmium, and for the impregnation of wood.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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