5 Feb: The Plastic That Changed The World

On this day in 1909 Leo Baekeland announced his invention of Bakelite to the American Chemical Society.

Having already earned a fortune selling his photographic patent to Kodak, the Belgian-born chemist had opened his own lab in Yonkers, experimenting with formaldehyde and phenol. The resulting material, which he called Bakelite, could be used in everything from toys to automobiles, and was marketed as ‘The Material of 1,000 Uses!’

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly uncover the explosive billiard balls of the post-ivory era; explain why plastic was a game-changer for the costume jewelry market; and reveal how the material played a surprising role in one of the great art crimes of the 20th century… 

Further Reading:

• The Story of Bakelite, the First Synthetic Plastic (ThoughtCo, 2019): https://www.thoughtco.com/story-of-synthetic-plastic-1991672

• ‘How plastic became a victim of its own success’ (BBC, 2017): https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41188462

• ‘How Bakelite Changed the World’ (How Stuff Works, 2013): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnEtfdthmG0&t=13s