- Category : Chemist
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 3/5 - Martyr / Heretic
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Explanation 4
Belgian born chemist who invented Velox photographic paper (1893) and Bakelite (1907), an inexpensive, nonflammable, versatile, and popular plastic, which marks the beginning of the modern plastics industry.
Baekeland was the son of a cobbler and a house maid. He graduated with honours from the Ghent Municipal Technical School and was awarded a scholarship by the City of Ghent to study chemistry at the University of Ghent, where he acquired a PhD maxima cum laude at the age of 21. He was subsequently appointed associate professor of chemistry in 1889, and married Céline Swarts, the daughter of his head of department.
Baekelandt became a naturalized American in 1897, and a professor by special appointment at Columbia University in 1917. He patented more than 55 inventions, including processes for the separation of copper and cadmium, for the impregnation of wood, etc.
Bakelite was the first plastic invented that held its shape after being heated. Radios, telephones and electrical insulators were made of Bakelite because of its properties of insulation and heat-resistance. Soon it penetrated nearly all branches of industry.
At his death in 1946, the world production of bakelite was ca. 175.000 ton, and it was used in over 15000 different articles.
Baekeland was awarded the Franklin Medal in 1940.
As Baekeland got older he became more eccentric, getting into fierce battles with his son and presumptive heir over salary and other issues. He sold the General Bakelite Company to Union Carbide in 1939 and, at his son's prompting, he retired. He became a recluse, eating all of his meals from cans and becoming obsessed with drugs, and developing an immense tropical garden on his winter estate in Coconut Grove, Florida. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in a sanatorium in Beacon, New York. Baekeland is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York