Saturday, May 26, 2007

Fascinating Invention No.13 - Bakelite, The Fantastic Plastic!

The Science Museum (where else?) has a fantastic plastic exhibition . Bakelite is the first plastic and was invented by Leo Baekeland in 1907, so, 100 years ago.

There was a time before plastic and it was a time made of wood and stone and glass. Of couse, The Parents still disapprove of plastic but you cannot have a phone made out of stone (too heavy) or electricity cables covered in wood (too burny) or glass Spiderman lunch boxes (too smashy).
Leo Baekeland made masses of money with some other fantastic invention and moved to a place called, Snug Rock where he spent years thinking about insulators. You may think this sounds very boring and it probably was but somebody needed to think about it because the beetles were getting tired.
For centuries, Laccifer lacca beetles beetled away making a varnish called Shellac - course, they were just the insect slaves of some people who ordered them about and made the money and probably did not give the beetles anything. But by 1904 it got worse; the beetles had to work overtime because everyone needed a coating for the all new and exciting electrity cables. The beetles just could not keep up and would probably have started a union or organised a strike or gone off work with stress if the first manufactured plastic had not been invented.

To do this, Baekeland used a machine called a 'bakeliser'. This was like a giant pressure cooker which could muck about with chemical gunk and make it into a mouldable substance. So plastic was invented and no more Shellac was needed.
The beetles could retire.

11 comments:

suzanabrams said...

Ever the genius you, Wilf.
When I see the word Bakelite, I think of famous Hollywood stars a long time ago, talking to each other on old-fashioned telephones. Those phones were very romantic to look at Wilf. :-)

angrygraham said...

Another excellent post however Bakelite is not a plastic - it is a thermoset material.

Richard said...

Bakelite wireless sets. My grandparents always used to talk about bakelite wireless sets.

As Susan points out, there's something terribly romantic and nostalgic about bakelite.

Wilf said...

Mum bought one because they are old and got something called 'repetitve strain injury' from lifting the receiver. So maybe you can have a Bakelite phone when you are feeling romantic (I think you will just have to put up with RSI, Suzan) and another for when you just want to answer the phone.

Wilf said...

Thankyou angry graham, somehow I expected you to be more angry.

Wilf said...

Wireless set? Is that like broadband?

Candy Gourlay said...

if you just read this straight without knowing anything at all about bugs or plastic or bakelight, it's unbelievable.

you could be on that radio 4 program. the one were they try to trip each other up with true facts.

love,c andy

Candy Gourlay said...

speaking of the wireless, we just read a book called the Victorian Internet about how the introduction of the telegraph (the technology not the newspaper) - "Imagine an almost instantaneous communication system that would allow people and governments all over the world to send and receive messages about politics, war, illness, and family events. The government has tried and failed to control it, and its revolutionary nature is trumpeted loudly by its backers. the internet? nope, the telegraph."

Wilf said...

Thanks, Candy but I cannot be on Radio 4 because I would probably turn into a very old person very quickly.
I really like your quote.

apprentice said...

I love Bakelite. I have an old vavle radio in the stuff and the tone is wonderful.

Bakelite Gal said...

The day they stopped making Bakelite Telephones and started using modern plastics to make telephones was a very sad day.