Leo Hendrik Baekeland (1863-1944)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

photo: chemheritage.org
He is American-Belgian chemical expert, doctor, professor, who invented Velox photographic paper (1893) and Bakelite (1907), an inexpensive, nonflammable, versatile, and popular plastic. He was born on November 14, 1863 and died at Beacon, New York on February 23, 1944. Baekeland is a very clever student and always to be champion in his class. He finished his study in senior high school at 16 years old. Because his intelligence, he get scholarship to continued study chemistry at the University of Ghent, where he acquired a PhD summa cum laude at the age of 21. He was subsequently appointed associate professor of chemistry in 1889, and married CĂ©line Swarts, the daughter of his head of department. Then he makes traveller to France and England. He has traveller and photographed hobby . In 1889 he get scholarship to study and make traveller to United States of America for three years but Baekeland decoded to settled in that country then changed his citizenship. He became US citizen. Because his photographed hobby, he get job at photograph company. At that time for printed negative film picture to paper must used sunlight. This is not practice way especially when night, cloudy, or rain condition. This company had high dependency to sunlight. He rethink his actions and he decided to return to his old interest of producing a photographic paper that would allow good pictures to be taken in artificial light. After two years of intensive effort he perfected the process to produce the paper, which he named Velox.
In 1893, At the time the US was suffering a recession and there were no investors or buyers for his proposed new product, so Baekeland became partners with Leonardi Jacobi and established the Nepera Chemical Company in Nepera Park, Yonkers, New York. In 1899 Baekeland was invited to meet George Eastman, who immediately offered him $1,000,000 for his Velox process. Baekeland accepted at once. Some portion of that money he spent for traveller to German, and the other portion of the money he purchased "Snug Rock", a house in Yonkers, New York, and set up his own well-equipped laboratory. He started investigation in 1905. His first objective was to find a replacement for shellac (made from the excretion of lac beetles). Chemists had begun to recognize that many of the natural resins and fibers were polymers. Baekeland began to investigate the reactions of phenol and formaldehyde. He first produced a soluble phenol-formaldehyde shellac called "Novolak" that never became a market success. He then turned to developing a binder for asbestos, which at that time was molded with rubber. By controlling the pressure and temperature applied to phenol and formaldehyde, he could produce his dreamed-of hard moldable plastic: bakelite. The official name of Bakelite is polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride. In 1910 he founded plastic pabric the General Bakelite Co and became president for 29 yaers until 1939.


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