Behind the White Wheel

Behind the White Wheel

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The truth about Bakelite…

Many might find this article out of context but I’ve been “harassing” my friends with bakelite for at least the past 7 years! So I decided to give bakelite a tribute in this post! A final one…therefore dear friends, bare to read one last article about bakelite…

I first discovered bakelite when I bought my car in 1995. The dashboard consists of many pieces all made of bakelite. Visually bakelite looks like hard brown plastic…however; if we touch it we can easily know that it’s not usual plastic!
What is bakelite then?
Bakelite is a type of plastic material that was invented by the Belgian Leo Beakeland (1863 - 1944) in 1907, in his laboratory in the US. It was the first synthetic plastic. Bakelite became a very popular trade name, just as popular as Hoover or Kleenex. It was used in thousands of products like cars, radios, electricity products, and so on.

In 1927, the patent on the bakelite production ended; hence the world witnessed the spread of the use of bakelite as it was cheaper than wood and steel! Bakelite took many forms, shapes, rendering various different designs. For example, Art Deco influenced many Bakelite products. Besides, the great depression in the 1930s, spread further the use of bakelite as it was cheaper than other products (wood and steel, as mentioned earlier) - Bakelite seems to have been specially "conceived for” the depression.
Many people thought that the design of products would make them more attractive in addition, of course, to their affordable price.
Bakelite was highly used in cars especially popular ones; my 1961 Mercedes-Benz 180, for instance, contains a significant amount of bakelite!! Actually, the entire dashboard, windows surrounds, and the fuse box are made of bakelite.

With time, bakelite becomes dull thus less shiny… My car faced this problem, I was however able to restore its original semi-glossy brown appearance by following Jeff Miller’s method. In fact, Miller suggested that dull bakelite should be cleaned with water then with clean cotton; one should apply a very thin layer of petroleum jelly before polishing the whole thing with another clean dry tissue. The results I got were amazing. This process should be repeated every 9 months (or less) depending on the location of the part made of bakelite.

Now I’m done with bakelite, I promise not to mention it again in this blog!
I want to thank my friends, especially Kamal, Georges and Ziad for storing with care the bakelite windows surrounds before shipping them to Beirut. Thanks to you these parts are “happily” mounted in their designated place in my 1961 Mercedes-Benz 180 now!! I would also like to thank Zina for still storing (hope so) a big bakelite piece in her home in Montreal…

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