Bakelite is regarded as the precursor to all modern plastics -- along with celluloid
, it was the first moldable, commercially viable synthetic. Its invention can also be looked at a precursor to deco
and modern design
: without it, there wouldn't have been a way to mass produce products with smooth, flowing lines.
Bakelite was (is?) a trade name of Baekeland's corporation. Until his patent expired in 1927, Bakelite was used mostly in industrial applications, such as automobile and electrical insulators. Once the patent lapsed, it broke into more widespread use.
Phenol formaldehyde is clear until filler is added, so bakelite was used in everything from jewelry to chairs. The bakelite radio case & speaker replaced wood and other more costly materials, radically reducing the radio's cost during the depression. Bakelite is one of the reasons that the radio, the first tool of live mass communication, was able to get into millions of homes across the world during the 1930s.
Today, Bakelite is a big collectable. Do a search for bakelite on ebay's completed auctions, ordered by descending bid price. Right now there are over a dozen auctions that closed over $1000.