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Bakelite and Lucite Handbag

  • 4.25 in. H x 8.75 in. W x 6.875 in. D
    Bakelite, Lucite, brass
  • On display in Making Modernity
  • Purchased for Collection
  • 2006.093


Bakelite is a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin that is created by mixing carbolic acid and formaldehyde under immense pressure. Bakelite was invented in 1907 by Belgian chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland as a replacement for shellac and is considered to be one the first plastics made from mostly synthetic products. Bakelite gained immense popularity after its invention due to its heat-resistant and nonconductive properties and its ability to be dyed any color of the rainbow. Bakelite was used for jewelry, kitchenware, radios, telephones, tobacco products, and toys, especially billiard balls. Although it was eventually replaced by other fully synthetic plastics that were less expensive to produce, Bakelite has experienced a resurgence in popularity, mostly with regard to jewelry and household items.

Lucite, methyl methacrylate polymer, was discovered in 1931 by chemists at DuPont and was among one of the first plastics derived from petrochemicals. Its crystal-clear appearance and strength were far superior to other polymers on the market, and consequently it was in heavy demand during World War II for use in windshields, nose cones, and gunner turrets for bombers and fighter planes. After the war DuPont marketed it for use in a variety of decorative and functional uses, such as lamps, hairbrushes, and jewelry.

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