The Birth of Plastic?

On this day in 940 Claude Monet was born, Princess Anne was married in 1973, the BBC began a radio service in the UK in 1922, in 1944 Carl Flesch died age 71 and in 1946 Manuel de Falla died at the age of 69 in the Argentine province of Córdoba.


The Belgian Chemist, Leo Hendrik Baekeland, was born on 14th November 1863. Dr Baekeland was the inventor of – arguably – one of the greatest 20th century discoveries, Bakelite. Bakelite is a polymer formed from an elimination reaction of phenol with formaldehyde (over several steps)




Bakelite is formed from the elimination reaction of Phenol and Formaldehyde


Bakelite was used throughout the world for many different applications, the most famous are probably the old Radio and Telephones. The plastic was particularly useful as it didn’t melt when heating, this was due to the cross linking between the strands of polymer. This type of polymer is known as a thermosetting polymer (for those of you taking chemistry GCSE science have a look at this game from the Nobel prize website)

Bakelite is less used today as Phenolic compounds are complex to produce and are comparatively costly, however the work of Dr Leo Baekeland gave rise to the importance of the plastics industry throughout the 20th century and shaped much of the world we live in today.