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Telephone 162CB - a Connected Earth artefact, now at the Amberley Museum Baekeland, Dr. Leo (1863-1944)

The chemist Leo Baekeland is regarded as the 'father of plastic'. Born in Ghent, Belgium, he moved to New York in 1889. Before becoming involved with plastics, he first invented a new system for developing photos that worked with gaslight. This was vastly superior to the standard and unreliable daylight process, and he sold the idea to Kodak for over a million dollars.

In the new century, Baekeland was experimenting with phenol and formaldehyde and noticed a strange resin that stuck to the inside of the test tube and wouldn't budge. His experiments to remove the unwanted compound led to his development of a totally new synthetic substance, which he called 'Bakelite'.

This was the first industrial plastic, which started the 'plastic age' in 1907. Suddenly industry didn't have to rely on metal or wood. Bakelite did not melt or deform and could be moulded into any shape. It was enthusiastically used for mouldings in cars and planes, telephones and even knife handles.

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

featured story

100 years of automatic switching!
In 1912 the GPO installed Britain's first automatic telephone exchange in Epsom.

Discover the early days of the telephone...