The trademark Bakelite and its associated logotype were first coined in the early years of the 20th century to describe the products of the phenol formaldehyde reaction developed in America by Leo H Baekeland. His patent specifications covering the chemical reaction and its uses are regarded by many as the birth certificate of the modern plastics industry. The mathematical infinity symbol underneath a capital B was intended to indicate the myriad uses of his phenolic materials. This was replaced with the three-lobed version circa 1926, which was inspired by the amalgamation of Baekeland’s General Bakelite Co. with the Condensite Co. and Redmanol Chemical Products Co. to form the Bakelite Corporation. The logo was ‘modernised’ in 1956 and survived in this form until the Company’s demise.
In spite of determined efforts by Baekeland and his lawyers over many years to protect the trademark it became so abused and widespread in use as to become generic and appear, for example, with a small ‘b’ in leading dictionaries throughout the world.
Baekeland had originally registered both his patents and the trademarks in a number of countries throughout the world. When, in 1939, he finally sold his company to the giant Union Carbide Corporation of America, the name was soon used in connection with a number of their other plastics products such as polyethylene, PVC, urea formaldehyde, polyester and epoxide resins.
A word of caution is necessary in connection with the use of the word Bakelite. It was used as a ‘shorthand’ for the names of companies such as Bakelite Limited and Union Carbide’s Bakelite Corporation. More importantly for collectors of plastics artefacts, the name is used indescriminately by many ill-informed dealers to describe almost any product made from thermosetting plastics materials and caution is advised when buying.
It is understood that, under new European law, the name has been resurrected from its generic status to become the registered trademark of Bakelite AG of Germany.