Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 45

Leo (Hendrik) Baekeland - The invention of Bakelite, Later life, Decline and death, Name

ghent synthetic age plastics

Chemist and inventor, born near Ghent, Belgium. Apprenticed to a shoemaker at age 13, he disliked the trade, left, and obtained a place to study science at the University of Ghent. He taught chemistry at Ghent and Bruges before emigrating to the USA (1890), where he pursued research in synthetic resins and plastics. He invented Velox paper for photographic prints, founded a firm that manufactured it, and sold the company to George Eastman (1899). In 1909 he discovered the first synthetic resin (named Bakelite after him) and established the Bakelite Corp for its manufacture (1910). The versatility of the product's applications opened up the modern age of plastics. In 1939 Union Carbide bought Bakelite Corp, and he retired to Florida, where he lived out his last years as a recluse.

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