Bakelite is abrand named material based on the thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, developed in 1907–1909 by Dr. Leo Baekeland. Formed by the reaction under heat and pressure of phenol and formaldehyde, generally with a wood flour filler, it was the first plastic made from synthetic components. It was used for its nonconductive and heat-resistant properties in radio and telephone casings and electrical insulators, and was also used in diverse products such as kitchenware, jewelry, pipe stems, and toys. In 1993 Bakelite was designated a ACS National Historical Chemical Landmark in recognition of its significance as the world's first completely synthetic plastic.
Phenolics are little used in general consumer products today due to the cost and complexity of production and their brittle nature. An exception to the overall decline is the use in small precision-shaped components where their specific properties are required, such as molded disc brake cylinders, saucepan handles, electrical plugs and switches, and electrical iron parts. Today, Bakelite is manufactured under various commercial brand names such as Micarta. Micarta is produced in sheets, rods and tubes for hundreds of industrial applications in the electronics, power generation and aerospace industries.
Phenolic sheet is a hard, dense material made by applying heat and pressure to layers of paper or glass cloth impregnated with synthetic resin. These layers of laminations are usually of cellulose paper, cotton fabrics, synthetic yarn fabrics, glass fabrics or unwoven fabrics. When heat and pressure are applied to the layers, a chemical reaction (polymerization) transforms the layers into a high-pressure thermosetting industrial laminated plastic.
Bakelite Phenolic is produced in dozens of commercial grades to meet mechanical, electrical and thermal requirements.
PAPER REINFORCED PHENOLIC NEMA XX per MIL-I-24768 PBG Normal electrical applications, moderate mechanical strength, continuous operating temperature of 250°F.
CANVAS REINFORCED PHENOLIC NEMA C per MIL-I-24768 TYPE FBM NEMA CE per MIL-I-24768 TYPE FBG Good mechanical and impact strength with contiunuous operating temperature of 250°F.
LINEN REINFORCED PHENOLIC NEMA L per MIL-I-24768 TYPE FBI NEMA LE per MIL-I-24768 TYPE FEI Good mechanical & electrical strength. Recommended for intricate high strength parts. Continuous operating temperature 250°F.
NYLON REINFORCED PHENOLIC NEMA N-1 per MIL-I-24768 TYPE NPG Superior electrical properties under humid conditions, fungus resistant, continuous operating temperature of 160°F.
Bakelite is referred to and used several times in the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Holton (Leblanc) once used Bakelite in the manufacture of saxophone mouthpieces.
Eastman Kodak used Bakelite when making the Brownie 127.
Due to Bakelite's hardness and durability, it was considered as a material for making pennies in the United States during World War II because copper was needed for shell casings. Several patterns were made in 1942, but steel was used instead in 1943 and recycled shell casings in 1944 and 1945.
Bakelite was used for the first solid body electric guitar, the Rickenbacker "frying pan" lap steel guitar.
In the UK, many people refer to traditional black rotary dial telephones as "Bakelite phones" or "Bakelite telephones", regardless of the actual material used to make the device. A Bakelite telephone typically carries a kitsch or retro image.
Bakelite is mistakenly used as a term for most vintage guitar parts made of nylon, generally 6/6 Dupont and Monsanto brands. Only a few parts were actually made of the material, bridge saddles for one example in the very early 1950s Fender Telecaster types.
The Russian material 'shpon', which was used widely in WW2 for aeroplane structures, is a wood laminate impregnated with phenolic resin and cured in a heated mould. The aft fuselages and outer wing panels of the Polikarpov I-16, early Mig's, and the early Yak fighters are shpon mouldings, for example.