Bakelite, the trade name for phenol‐formaldehyde or phenolic resins, was the first totally synthetic plastic and was patented by Dr Leo Baekeland in 1907. In order to put his invention into commercial production in 1910 he founded the American General Bakelite Company. It became the Bakelite Corporation in 1922 and was taken over by the Union Carbide and Carbon Company in 1939. Bakelite also impacted on Europe with Baekeland's establishment of the Bakelite Corporation of Great Britain in 1922. Although laminated phenolic resins were originally used for the manufacture of gears, Bakelite subsequently emerged as an important new material in product design. This followed the expiry of Baekeland's patents in 1927 when many new variants of phenolic resin became available under a variety of trade names. This new competition forced down prices and also produced brightly coloured variations of a material that had previously been black or dark brown in appearance. Many industrial designers in the United States were enthusiastic about the smooth, lightweight, and durable forms that were easily manufactured using the new resins. Raymond Loewy, for example, used Bakelite to telling effect in the smoothly rounded casing for his celebrated 1929 design for a Gestetner duplicating machine. Keeping the product firmly in the public eye, Bakelite was displayed at the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress Exposition. Bakelite also had widespread currency in Britain, particularly in innovative radio cabinets manufactured by E. K. Cole Ltd. such as the rounded form of the Model AD65 radio designed by Wells Coates (1934) and the elegant Model AC74 radio by Serge Chermayeff. Phenolics were also used in furniture manufacture, as in the commercially successful French outdoor café range by Manufacture d'Isolants et Objets Moulés launched in 1932. Following their introduction in the years before the First World War phenolic laminates were employed for several decades in a variety of uses, from decorative panels to dress fabrics. See also Formica.
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.