Set of beakers made from phenol formaldehyde, 20th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Three phenolic beakers from a display stand of plastics displayed in Adelaide, Australia. Phenolic resins were first used for varnishes and laminates used as electrical insulators. The first synthetic thermosetting plastic was patented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland (1863-1944). When combined with a wood flour filler, phenol formaldehyde, known by its trade name 'Bakelite', after its inventor, forms a useful mouldable plastic, with very good electrical insulating properties.