Bakelite enabled inexpensive mass production at very high tolerances where interchangeable parts matter (ex: telephones, radios, plugs, pens, wristbands, insulators, etc…). Also, it looked fun compared to organic materials in use before Bakelite.

Baekeland’s Bakelite opened the “age of plastics.” It was moldable into any shape and, once molded, kept its shape. It did not react to heat and insulated electricity. Moldable to very tight tolerances, Bakelite was perfect for ever-smaller and more precise interchangeable parts.

Understanding that his patents would eventually expire, Baekeland worked hard branding the trademark Bakelite. After the patents expired, advertising pushed consumers to insist on genuine Bakelite despite that knockoffs were chemically identical.

Thanks to Velox photo paper, Baekeland was already rich when he invented Bakelite. However, his plastic made him fabulously wealthy. In 1939, at age 75, Baekeland sold Bakelite to Union Carbide for $16.5 million.

Later in life, he suffered mental issues, refusing to eat food that did not come from cans and fought with his son. His tombstone is granite but Bakelite seems like it would’ve been a more appropriate choice.

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