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Leo Hendrik Baekeland ( 1863 - 1944 )  Category ( Chemists ) [suggest a correction]
 

Leo Hendrik BaekelandLeo Hendrik Baekeland was a chemist who is best known as the inventor of Bakelite, which, due to its low cost and versatility, was considered a miracle for millions of homemakers. He was born in Belgium to a cobbler. His mother was a maid. Despite his humble background, Baekeland displayed an early aptitude for science. He graduated high school with honors and received a full scholarship from the City of Ghent to study chemistry at that city's university. He received the Ph.D (summa cum laude) at the tender age of twenty-one, and was immediately appointed associate professor of chemistry. That same year he married the daughter of the head of the chemistry department. While the couple was on their honeymoon, in New York, Baekeland met a number of prominent American scientists, including Richard Anthony, who was a co-owner of a chemical company specializing in photographic research.

Anthony was impressed with Baekeland and hired him. Baekeland worked for Anthony for two years, and then opened his own business as a consultant. Unfortunately, he soon became ill and went through his savings quickly. His dual health and financial scare drove him back to research, where he developed a photographic paper that worked well in artificial light. He called his invention Velox. He could find no buyers at that time, so he formed a chemical company with one of his colleagues. Several years later he met George Eastman, and sold Velox to him for one million dollars, a stupendous amount at that time. Now financially secure, he was able to buy a home, properly equip his laboratory, and focus on his other ideas, the most significant of which became Bakelite. Baekeland's contribution cannot be understated, as it was his invention that ushered in what is known as the Age of Plastics.  Bakelite could be heated without warping the container, and was affordable and easy to use and store. But Bakelite went on to affect much more than kitchens. Bakelite was soon used in radio, telephone, and electrical insulators, since its resistance to heat made it much safer than other materials.

Unfortunately, Baekeland was unable to enjoy much of the fruits of his great accomplishments. He seems to have suffered with mental health issues; some called him eccentric. He battled with his son and other family members about company policies, and upon his retirement he became a recluse. Eventually he was placed in a sanatorium, where he died.


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