Baekeland, Leo

Baekeland, Leo (Hendrik)

(1863–1944) chemist, inventor; born near Ghent, Belgium. Apprenticed to a shoemaker at age 13, he disliked the trade, escaped it, and managed to obtain a scientific education at the University of Ghent. He taught chemistry at Ghent and Bruges before emigrating to the U.S.A. in 1890, where he pursued research in synthetic resins and plastics. He invented Velox paper for photographic prints and founded a firm that manufactured it; he sold the company to George Eastman in 1899. In 1909 he discovered the first synthetic resin—named bakelite for him—and established the Bakelite Corp. to produce it in 1910; the versatility of the product's applications opened up the modern age of plastics. In 1939 Union Carbide bought Bakelite Corp.; its founder retired to Florida, where he lived out his last years as a recluse.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.