Bakelite: The greatest discovery of the late 19th century
First discovered in 1909 by Leo Baekeland, Bakelite was the first plastic to be industrially produced; not content with having made its inventor rich, it revolutionised our daily lives by ushering in the age of plastics. Lightweight, resistant to heat and many chemicals, Bakelite is an excellent electrical insulator which was quickly adopted by the electrical construction industry. At the time, this new resin was also the first thermosetting plastic, a property that was used in many industrial applications, such as the manufacture of the shells for radios and telephones, jewellery, toys, and more. Thanks to its lacquered appearance, it became the ideal material for household appliances.
In 1930, Ericsson, the Swedish company, commissioned Norwegian artist Jean Heiberg to design the shape of the first Bakelite telephone, with the aim of mass-producing a communication tool that had until then been the preserve of a wealthy clientele. It was made to last: unbreakable, indefatigable, without a battery or other accessories, it would never break down. In order to better meet households' needs and appeal to the greatest number, the last telephone made from Bakelite were available in black, the most common colour followed by ivory, the luxuary model.
Bakelite has long since been replaced by newer plastics that are lighter, easier to manufacture, more efficient, easy to provide in colours, etc. However, nostalgic design enthusiasts who are dissatisfied by devices combining high-tech with vintage sensibilities have been delighted by the re-emergence of simple telephones with a retro-chic look: it is the opportunity to recapture the simplicity of our childhoods, when phones were used only to make telephone calls! As a result, many of those good old Bakelite telephones are given a new lease of life as collector's items: bakelite phone became a cult object!