Bakelite coffin, 1938.
4 0 c m
actual image size: 16cm x 32cm

Bakelite coffin, 1938.

© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library


This coffin is believed to be the largest phenolic moulding in the world. Designed by James Doleman and made by the Ultralite Casket Co Ltd, it was manufactured from imitation walnut phenolic resin with a wood flour filler devised by the Bakelite Company Ltd of London. The coffin did not go into large scale production because of the inventor's death in 1944, during World War II. It was discovered in the attic of the Bakelite Company in 1985. The first synthetic thermosetting plastic was patented in 1909 by Leo Baekeland (1863-1944), a Belgian-born chemist who emigrated to the United States in 1889. When combined with a wood flour filler, phenol formaldehyde, known by its trade name 'Bakelite', after its inventor, forms a useful mouldable plastic.

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