5 February 1907

Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland announces the creation of Bakelite, the world’s first synthetic plastic.

Bakelite is a type of thermosetting plastic that was developed by Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland in 1907. It is considered one of the first synthetic plastics and played a significant role in the development of the modern plastics industry. Bakelite is known for its durability, heat resistance, and electrical insulating properties.

Composition: Bakelite is made through the polymerization of phenol and formaldehyde. This process results in a hard and rigid material that can withstand high temperatures.

Thermosetting: Bakelite is a thermosetting plastic, meaning that once it is molded and set, it cannot be remolded or reshaped by heating. This characteristic makes it stable and resistant to melting when exposed to heat.

Applications: Bakelite found widespread use in various industries, particularly in the early to mid-20th century. It was used to manufacture a wide range of products, including electrical insulators, automotive parts, kitchenware, jewelry, and even firearms.

Electrical Insulation: One of the key reasons for Bakelite’s popularity was its excellent electrical insulating properties. It was extensively used for making electrical switches, connectors, and other components.

Appearance: Bakelite is known for its distinctive appearance, often resembling wood or other materials. It can be molded into various shapes and colors, and its surface can have a shiny, polished finish.

Collectibility: Vintage Bakelite items, especially jewelry and household items, have become collectibles. The unique look and historical significance of Bakelite contribute to its popularity among collectors.

Legacy: While Bakelite was widely used in the early-to-mid 20th century, it gradually lost market share to other types of plastics with different properties. However, its legacy as one of the pioneering synthetic plastics remains important in the history of materials science and industrial development.