Baekeland, Leo Hendrik

Born: Ghent, Belgium (1863)
Died: Beacon, N.Y. (USA) (1944)

After attending evening classes at a technical institute in Ghent, he obtains a scholarship
at the University of Ghent, where he graduates as a chemist in 1884. Coupling an innate
sense for business with an interest in photochemistry, he sets up a small factory making
photographic plates. As a start of his academic career his mentor – and father in law
Théodore Swarts (1839-1911) - sends him with a scholarship to the United States where
he researches thoroughly the properties of the suspension of silverhalogenides in gelatin,
leading to the invention of the Velox photographic paper which earns him a very
advantageous financial deal with the Eastman Kodak Company. With this newly acquired
fortune he builds in Yonkers, N.Y., a house with an adjacent laboratory where he does
research into electrochemistry. Later on he initiates a series of experiments with phenol
and formaldehyde which lead to the discovery of Bakelite (1909). Having become an
American citizen in 1897, he keeps his links with Belgium and during WWI contributes
large amounts of money to supply food from the US to Belgium.

Yves De Cock

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14 september 2010
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