Baekeland, Leo Hendrik (1863–1944)

Leo Hendrik Baekeland

Leo Baekaland was a Belgian-born American chemist who invented a type of photographic paper, Velox, capable of being exposed under artificial light. He also invented (1909) the first thermosetting plastic, Bakelite, a substance that led to the development of the plastics industry.


Baekeland was born in Ghent, Belgium and received a degree in chemistry from the University of Ghent. He moved to the United States in 1889 and began working as a research chemist at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station.


In 1907, Baekeland developed Bakelite by combining phenol and formaldehyde under high pressure and heat. This new material had a number of useful properties, including being heat-resistant, electrical insulating, and resistant to chemical degradation. It quickly found a wide range of applications, including in the electrical, automotive, and construction industries.


Baekeland was awarded over 100 patents during his career and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1989. He was also a member of the American Chemical Society and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.