When was Bakelite made

Bakelite - the basic substance of modern everyday culture

The beginnings of plastics chemistry

"It is odorless, it withstands the heat, it does not burn, it is significantly cheaper," said the chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland, describing his invention at the time. "As a billiard ball, it is not inferior to the ivory ball. It can be used for handles, buttons, knife handles. But the use of Bakelite for such luxury objects has not interested me as long as there are so many more important technical applications."

Leo Hendrik Baekeland is one of the founders of plastic chemistry. The Flemish was born in Ghent in 1863 as the son of a shoemaker and studied chemistry at Ghent University. One of his first inventions was "Velox paper" - an extremely light-sensitive photo paper.

In Belgium and the USA he built factories that produced the photographic material. In 1906 Baekeland sold this together with the patents to the Kodak company. Financially secure, he was able to devote himself exclusively to his research again.

The discovery of synthetic resin

In 1905, during his experiments with phenols and formaldehyde, the chemist discovered that the two substances combine to form long molecular chains. He was then able to press the synthetic resin compound that was created into molds and harden it with heat and pressure. Based on his name, Baekeland called his invention "Bakelite".

The chemist sold the decisive patent for his discovery, the heat-pressure patent, to the Rütgerswerke near Berlin. Because they immediately recognized the benefits of the new material. Bakelite, which provides excellent electrical insulation, does not burn and does not deform when exposed to heat, was perfect for jackets, switches, circuit boards and sockets.

Rütgerswerke and Baekeland jointly founded "Bakelite GmbH" in 1910, and production started a little later. In October of the same year, the researcher set up the "General Bakelite Company" in the USA. This was the beginning of large-scale industrial production of plastic.

How Bakelite conquered everyday life

After the patent expired in 1927, Bakelite production expanded rapidly. In the 1930s there were already several hundred pressing plants in Germany.

In addition to insulation materials, utensils of all kinds were pressed. They can still be admired in many exhibitions today: tins for soap and shampoo in marbled brown and red tones, boxes for cigars, kitchen scales or thermos flasks.

Even field telephones during the Soviet era could not do without Bakelite. The material even made Nazi propaganda easier: In 1938, Bakelite enabled inexpensive mass production of the VE 301 Volksempfänger, the "Goebbelsschnauze".

As in the Federal Republic of Germany, plastic was also very popular in the GDR: The "Mixette" mixer was manufactured until the end of the 1950s. Until 1960, Siemens produced the well-known W48 Bakelite telephone.

Today Bakelite is only used for special applications that require mechanical and thermal load capacity or fire resistance. The synthetic resin can be found in grinding disks, filter papers or refractory materials.