Phenolic plastic electric digital clock, 1930.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
A clock of Art Deco design in brown phenolic with the word 'TELEVISION' printed on its face. Produced by reacting phenol and formaldehyde, the initial uses of phenolic resins were for varnishes and laminates used as electrical insulators. 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, with very good electrical insulating properties. Numerous other phenolic resins with different characteristics have subsequently been developed. Made by Penwood Numechron Co, United States.