Bakelite, also known as polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, is a plastic created by an elimination reaction of phenol and formaldehyde. It is made from synthetic components and was one of the first plastics to be made in this way. It was very popular after its invention and was used for many applications. It was heat resistant and didn’t conduct electricity, which meant that it was commonly used for electrical insulators as well as telephone and radio casings. It was also a popular material for kitchenware, children’s toys, jewelry and much more. Bakelite is rarely used today because it is brittle and costs more to make than other plastics. However, products made from bakelite remain popular with collectors of retro items. Let’s find out who invented this type of plastic.
Who invented bakelite?
Bakelite was invented by Belgian born, American chemist, Dr. Leo Baekeland in 1907. Baekeland was working on a replacement for shellac, which was made from lac beetle excretion, and began experimenting the reactions between phenol and formaldehyde. He created a synthetic shellac known as “Novolak,” but it was a commercial failure. He began to work on a binding material for asbestos and it was during this work that he produced a hard moldable synthetic plastic. He patented his discovery in 1907 (it was granted in 1909) and named the product bakelite. He called the product “the material of 1000 uses” and presented it to the American Chemical Society in 1909. The invention of this plastic is considered to be a key point in the development of the modern synthetic plastics that we take for granted today.
Did you know?
When asked why he began experimenting with synthetic resins Baekeland answered “to make money.”
At the time of Baekeland’s death in 1944 bakelite was used in more than 15,000 different applications!