Science Inventions
Bakelite the First Modern Plastic

Science inventions of the 20th Century. Bakelite was invented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland. It was the beginning of the modern plastics industry. Bakelite was inexpensive, nonflammable and versatile. It became a popular plastic with the slogan “the material with 1000 uses.”

Bakelite Radio

Bakelite Radio

Leo Baekeland and his assistant Thurlow who worked in the lab with him. They were looking for a way to produce shellac to cover wood using soluble resins. Natural shellac is made from resin secreted by the East Asian lac bug which is scraped off the bark of trees the bugs inhabited.

During the summer of 1907 Baekeland decided he wanted to create a product that would strengthen the wood instead of just coating the wood. He wanted to create a synthetic resin to soak into the wood that would make the wood stronger.

Baekeland created a machine he called a “Bakelizer” that subjected the materials he was working with to heat and pressure. Bakelite was the final product after the synthetic resins were subjected to the heat and pressure in the bakelizers. The final product could be created quickly and molded into a variety of shapes using mass production.

Bakelite also had some other features that turned it into the most important synthetic plastic of the 20th Century. Once the material was molded it retained its shape even when heated or subjected to various solvents. It became a popular product for jewelry with plastic bracelets and other jewelry that has recently become popular with collectors.

Bakelite was popular in cars and electrical components because it was extraordinarily resistant to electricity, heat and chemical actions. It was soon used in all the non-conducting parts of radios and other electrical devices. Bases and sockets of light bulbs were made of Bakelite. Automobile distributor caps and other insulators were also made from Bakelite.

The Bakelite Corporation adopted the mathematical symbol for infinity as its logo. They coined the phrase “The Material of a Thousand Uses,” for the company’s slogan.


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