When I set up at antiques shows curious shoppers often question me about the Bakelite jewelry I carry. Many expressing disbelief that “plastic” could be so expensive. Other shoppers just smile and run their hands over the bangles on display, looking to add to their So what is this stuff that entrances so many, while leaving others shaking their heads?
Simply put, it is the world’s first totally synthetic plastic. Previous plastics were either entirely organic or contained organic components. Plastics such as celluloid, tortoiseshell, and gutta-percha. Items made from these plastics were flammable and became brittle over time. Their use to mainly decorative items, such as jewelry and dresser top items, or salt and pepper shakers.
Bakelite Parts was invented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland, a Belgian scientist living in the US It is a phenolic resin which after curing will not burn and cannot be softened or re-melted. It is warm to the touch, moisture resistant and polishes to a soft Luster.
These qualities made this plastic the perfect material for so many things. Eventually earning the label “the plastic with a thousand uses”.
Since it could resist heat without melting or burning Bakelite was ideal to manufacture the first telephones, radios, stove knobs, and electric clocks. While also finding uses as drawer pulls, cutlery handles, desk and vanity sets, poker chips, umbrella handles, and On and on. As you can see, this invention was revolutionary to the US manufacturing industry.