Bakelite

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Bakelite (pronounced /ˈbeɪkɨlaɪt/), or polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, is an early plastic. It is a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin, formed from an elimination reaction of phenol with formaldehyde, usually with a wood flour filler. It was developed in 1907–1909 by Belgian chemist Dr. Leo Baekeland.

One of the first plastics made from synthetic components (although phenol can be extracted from biological sources), Bakelite was used for its electrically nonconductive and heat-resistant properties in radio and telephone casings and electrical insulators, and also in such diverse products as kitchenware, jewellery, pipe stems, and children's toys. In 1993 Bakelite was designated a National Historical Chemical Landmark in recognition of its significance as the world's first synthetic plastic.[1]

The "retro" appeal of old Bakelite products and labor intensive manufacturing has made them quite collectible in recent years.

Contents

History

Dr. Baekeland had originally set out to find a replacement for shellac (made from the excretion of lac beetles). Chemists had begun to recognize that many natural resins and fibres were polymers, and Baekeland investigated the reactions of phenol and formaldehyde. He first produced a soluble phenol-formaldehyde shellac called "Novolak" that never became a market success, then turned to developing a binder for asbestos which, at that time, was moulded with rubber. By controlling the pressure and temperature applied to phenol and formaldehyde, he found he could produce his dreamed-of hard mouldable plastic: bakelite.[2]

The Bakelite Corporation was formed in 1922 (after patent litigation favorable to Baekeland) from a merger of three companies: the General Bakelite Company, which Baekeland had founded in 1910, the Condensite Company founded by J.W. Aylesworth, and the Redmanol Chemical Products Company founded by L.V. Redman.[3]

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