Leo Baekeland
Leo Hendrik Baekeland was a Belgian
Demographics of Belgium
This article is about the demographic features of the population of Belgium, including ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population...

A chemist is a scientist trained in the study of chemistry. Chemists study the composition of matter and its properties such as density and acidity. Chemists carefully describe the properties they study in terms of quantities, with detail on the level of molecules and their component atoms...

 who invented Velox photographic paper (1893) and Bakelite (1907), an inexpensive, nonflammable, versatile, and popular plastic
A plastic material is any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids used in the manufacture of industrial products. Plastics are typically polymers of high molecular mass, and may contain other substances to improve performance and/or reduce production costs...

, which marks the beginning of the modern plastics industry.


Leo Baekeland was born in Sint-Martens-Latem
Sint-Martens-Latem is a municipality located in the Flemish province of East Flanders, in Belgium. The municipality comprises the towns of Deurle and Sint-Martens-Latem proper. On January 1, 2006 Sint-Martens-Latem had a total population of 8,280...

 near Ghent, Belgium, Baekeland was the son of a cobbler and a maid. He told The Literary Digest: "The name is a Dutch word meaning 'Land of Beacons.'" He graduated with honours from the Ghent Municipal Technical School and was awarded a scholarship by the City of Ghent to study chemistry at the University of Ghent, where he acquired a PhD summa cum laude
Latin honors
Latin honors are Latin phrases used to indicate the level of academic distinction with which an academic degree was earned. This system is primarily used in the United States, Canada, and in many countries of continental Europe, though some institutions also use the English translation of these...

 at the age of 21. He was subsequently appointed associate professor of chemistry in 1889, and married Céline Swarts, the daughter of his head of department.

In 1889 Baekeland honeymooned in New York, where he met Richard Anthony, of the E. and H.T. Anthony
Ansco was the name of a photographic company based in Binghamton, New York, which produced inexpensive cameras for most of the 20th century. It also sold rebadged versions of cameras made by other manufacturers, including Agfa and Chinon...

 photographic company. Baekeland had already invented a process to develop photographic plates using water instead of chemicals, and was interested in moving to America; Anthony saw potential in the young chemist and offered him a job.

Baekeland worked for the Anthony company for two years, and in 1891 set up in business for himself as a consulting chemist. However, a spell of illness and disappearing funds made him rethink his actions and he decided to return to his old interest of producing a photographic paper that would allow good pictures to be taken in artificial light. After two years of intensive effort he perfected the process to produce the paper, which he named Velox, it was the first commercially successful photographic paper. At the time the US was suffering a recession and there were no investors or buyers for his proposed new product, so Baekeland became partners with Leonardi Jacobi and established the Nepera Chemical Company in Nepera Park, Yonkers, New York
Yonkers, New York
Yonkers is the fourth most populous city in the state of New York , and the most populous city in Westchester County, with a population of 195,976...


In 1899 Baekeland was invited to meet George Eastman
George Eastman
George Eastman was an American innovator and entrepreneur who founded the Eastman Kodak Company and invented roll film, helping to bring photography to the mainstream...

, who immediately offered him $1,000,000 for his Velox process. Baekeland accepted at once. With a portion of the money he purchased "Snug Rock", a house in Yonkers, New York, and set up his own well-equipped laboratory.

He patented more than 55 inventions, including processes for the separation of copper and cadmium, for the impregnation of wood, etc.

The invention of Bakelite

When asked why he entered the field of synthetic resin
Synthetic resin
Synthetic resins are materials with a property of interest that is similar to natural plant resins: they are viscous liquids that are capable of hardening permanently. Otherwise, chemically they are very different from the various resinous compounds secreted by plants .The synthetics are of several...

s, Baekeland answered "to make money." His first objective was to find a replacement for shellac
Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. It is processed and sold as dry flakes , which are dissolved in ethyl alcohol to make liquid shellac, which is used as a brush-on colorant, food glaze and wood finish...

 (made from the excretion of lac beetles
Lac is the scarlet resinous secretion of a number of species of insects, namely some of the species of the genera Metatachardia, Laccifer, Tachordiella, Austrotacharidia, Afrotachardina, and Tachardina of the superfamily Coccoidea, of which the most commonly cultivated species is Kerria lacca.The...

). Chemists had begun to recognize that many of the natural resins and fibers were polymer
A polymer is a large molecule composed of repeating structural units. These subunits are typically connected by covalent chemical bonds...

s. Baekeland began to investigate the reactions of phenol
Phenol, also known as carbolic acid, phenic acid, is an organic compound with the chemical formula C6H5OH. It is a white crystalline solid. The molecule consists of a phenyl , bonded to a hydroxyl group. It is produced on a large scale as a precursor to many materials and useful compounds...

 and formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is an organic compound with the formula CH2O. It is the simplest aldehyde, hence its systematic name methanal.Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a characteristic pungent odor. It is an important precursor to many other chemical compounds, especially for polymers...

. He first produced a soluble phenol-formaldehyde shellac called "Novolak
Phenol formaldehyde resin
Phenol formaldehyde resins include synthetic thermosetting resins such as obtained by the reaction of phenols with formaldehyde. Sometimes the precursors include other aldehydes or other phenol. Phenolic resins are mainly used in the production of circuit boards...

" that never became a market success as a brand, but still exists as Novolac. He then turned to developing a binder for asbestos
Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals used commercially for their desirable physical properties. They all have in common their eponymous, asbestiform habit: long, thin fibrous crystals...

, which at that time was molded with rubber
Natural rubber, also called India rubber or caoutchouc, is an elastomer that was originally derived from latex, a milky colloid produced by some plants. The plants would be ‘tapped’, that is, an incision made into the bark of the tree and the sticky, milk colored latex sap collected and refined...

. By controlling the pressure and temperature applied to phenol and formaldehyde, he could produce his dreamed-of hard moldable plastic: Bakelite. The official name of Bakelite is polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride.
His US Patent #942,699, Method of making insoluble products of phenol and formaldehyde, was filed in July 1907, and patented on Dec 7, 1909.
The invention described a method of producing a hard, compact, insoluble and infusable condensation product of phenols and formaldehyde.

In February 1909 Baekeland officially announced his achievement at a meeting of the New York section of the American Chemical Society
American Chemical Society
The American Chemical Society is a scientific society based in the United States that supports scientific inquiry in the field of chemistry. Founded in 1876 at New York University, the ACS currently has more than 161,000 members at all degree-levels and in all fields of chemistry, chemical...


In 1922, after patent litigation favorable to Baekeland, the General Bakelite Co., which he had founded in 1910, along with the Condensite Co. founded by Aylesworth, and the Redmanol Chemical Products Co. founded by L.V. Redman, were merged into the Bakelite Corporation.

The invention of Bakelite marks the beginning of the Age of Plastics. Bakelite was made from phenol
Phenol, also known as carbolic acid, phenic acid, is an organic compound with the chemical formula C6H5OH. It is a white crystalline solid. The molecule consists of a phenyl , bonded to a hydroxyl group. It is produced on a large scale as a precursor to many materials and useful compounds...

 (then known as carbolic acid) and formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is an organic compound with the formula CH2O. It is the simplest aldehyde, hence its systematic name methanal.Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a characteristic pungent odor. It is an important precursor to many other chemical compounds, especially for polymers...

. These can be mixed, heated, and then either molded or extruded. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded annually by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to scientists in the various fields of chemistry. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895, awarded for outstanding contributions in chemistry, physics, literature,...

 winning German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

  Adolf von Baeyer
Adolf von Baeyer
Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer was a German chemist who synthesized indigo, and was the 1905 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Born in Berlin, he initially studied mathematics and physics at Berlin University before moving to Heidelberg to study chemistry with Robert Bunsen...

 had experimented with this material in 1872, but did not complete its development. Bakelite took the industry by storm after 1907.

Bakelite was the first plastic invented that held its shape after being heated. Radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

s, telephone
The telephone , colloquially referred to as a phone, is a telecommunications device that transmits and receives sounds, usually the human voice. Telephones are a point-to-point communication system whose most basic function is to allow two people separated by large distances to talk to each other...

s and electrical insulators were made of Bakelite because of its properties of insulation and heat-resistance. Soon it penetrated nearly all branches of industry.

At his death in 1944, the world production of bakelite was ca. 175.000 ton, and it was used in over 15000 different articles.

Baekeland was awarded the Franklin Medal
Franklin Medal
The Franklin Medal was a science and engineering award presented by the Franklin Institute, of Philadelphia, PA, USA.-Laureates:*1915 - Thomas Alva Edison *1915 - Heike Kamerlingh Onnes *1916 - John J...

 in 1940.

Decline and death

As Baekeland got older he became more eccentric, getting into fierce battles with his son and presumptive heir over salary and other issues. He sold the General Bakelite Company to Union Carbide
Union Carbide
Union Carbide Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company. It currently employs more than 2,400 people. Union Carbide primarily produces chemicals and polymers that undergo one or more further conversions by customers before reaching consumers. Some are high-volume...

 in 1939 and, at his son's prompting, he retired. He became a recluse, eating all of his meals from cans and becoming obsessed with developing an immense tropical garden on his winter estate in Coconut Grove, Florida
Coconut Grove, Florida
Coconut Grove is the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood of Miami, Florida in Miami-Dade County, United States. The neighborhood is roughly bound by North Prospect Drive to the south, LeJeune Road to the west, South Dixie Highway and Rickenbacker Causeway to the north, and Biscayne Bay to...

. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in a sanatorium in Beacon, New York
Beacon, New York
Beacon is a city located in Dutchess County, New York, United States. The 2010 census placed the city total population at 15,541. Beacon is part of the Poughkeepsie–Newburgh–Middletown, NY Metropolitan Statistical Area as well as the larger New York–Newark–Bridgeport,...

. Baekeland is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York is the resting place of numerous famous figures, including Washington Irving, whose story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is set in the adjacent Old Dutch Burying Ground. Incorporated in 1849 as Tarrytown Cemetery, it posthumously honored Irving's...

 in Sleepy Hollow, New York
Sleepy Hollow, New York
Sleepy Hollow is a village in the town of Mount Pleasant in Westchester County, New York, United States. It is located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River, about north of midtown Manhattan in New York City, and is served by the Philipse Manor stop on the Metro-North Hudson Line.Originally...

Leo Baekeland was the grandfather of Brooks Baekeland, whose wife Barbara Daly Baekeland
Barbara Daly Baekeland
Barbara Daly Baekeland was a wealthy socialite who was murdered by her son, Antony Baekeland. She was the wife of Brooks Baekeland, who was the grandson of Leo Baekeland, inventor of Bakelite plastic....

 was murdered by their son, Antony in 1972.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.