American Studies
American Studies

All Things Bakelite!

Tue, April 25, 2017 | ART 1.120

4:00 PM

You’re invited to a screening of a one-hour documentary film entitled All Things Bakelite on Tuesday, April 25, at 4 pm, in ART 1.120, followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers (executive producer Hugh Karraker and director John Maher) and UT faculty members (historian of science Bruce Hunt, designer Kate Catterall, design historian Carma Gorman, and historian of technology Jeff Meikle). All Things Bakelite employs historical footage, still photographs, dramatic reenactment, and expert interviews (as well as a cameo by Austin’s cabaret troupe Esther’s Follies) to explore the invention, marketing, and subsequent history of the world’s first synthetic plastic.

Bakelite was the first totally artificial material with molecules previously unknown in nature. Invented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland, a Belgian émigré chemist, the new material immediately became indispensable for hidden electrical components of such new technologies as the automobile and radio. More to the point, as the first of many new synthetic plastics and polymers, Bakelite contributed to the expanding consumer culture of the 20th century by placing an infinite range of inexpensive, easily molded goods within economic range of ordinary citizens. By 1967, the cultural significance of synthetics such as Bakelite had become so powerful that movie audiences exploded when Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate was told, “Plastics… just one word… there’s a great future in plastics.”

This event is sponsored by the Department of American Studies, the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, the Design Division of the Department of Art and Art History, and the History and Philosophy of Science Colloquium.

Please address any questions to Jeff Meikle <meikle@mail.utexas.edu>.

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