Bakelite is a variety of moldable plastic that was invented by Leo Baekeland in 1909. Technically, this colorful plastic is a thermosetting phenol-formaldehyde resin. A specialized cast iron machine called a Bakelizer was constructed to manufacture this first synthetic plastic.
Bakelite reached its height of popularity in the 1930s during the Great Depression. As well as injecting beauty and durability into everyday household goods, bakelite was fashioned into wonderful pieces of jewelry such as colorful bangles, brooches, pendants, and earrings. While not intrinsically valuable, vintage bakelite is very collectible and can sometimes be quite pricey. One such collectible type of bakelite is known as “apple juice” referring to the translucent golden yellow coloration of the resin.
Bakelite Bakelizer on Display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.