Bakelite / Plaskon / Plastic

Oh where do I begin.  So many people are confused about the materials that radios were made of over the years.  I cannot repeat the volumes of books that each try to describe the various materials so I will just try a brief synopsis:

The first plastic radios were made of a material called bakelite.  Bakelite is simply the trade name for a material invented by Leo Baekland.   He experimented with two coal byproducts: phenol and formaldehyde.  He found that when these two chemicals were mixed together under moderate heat the result was a sticky, viscous resin.   When this material was then allowed to cool it would harden and in this way could be molded into shapes.  Unfortunately, the new product was brittle and would break and crumble with minimal pressure.  His next step was to crush the new material into a light brown fluffy powder and then resubmit it to heat and pressure but this time a lot more of both.  This step permanently "set" or bonded the molecules of the two chemicals into a stable and hard material.  This process became known as thermosetting.  The result was a powder that could easily be put into molds to create products.  In 1909, Mr. Baekland patented this new material and formed a company called Bakelite.  The Bakelite Company began selling their material to many manufacturers, and became a huge success.  The company kept experimenting with the material and quickly found that they could use "fillers" to make their product stronger, more durable and cheaper.  The filler material was usually rags, cotton, wood flour or carbon. Even when these fillers were incorporated into the original material, the intense heat and pressure used would keep the end product a dark brown.   The variations of color (mainly browns), mottling and even swirling we see today in bakelite radios are from the different fillers used.  Because of the Bakelite Company's huge success, the name bakelite quickly became the way to describe many  early types of plastics.  Bakelite cabinets are solid and do not allow light through the material

Plaskon was developed and introduced in 1931 by the Toledo Scale Company to incorporate into their scales to make the machines lighter and easier to ship.  They began with the urea compound and used cellulose as a filler.  They also made a few other chemical additions to keep the material from fading (they wanted a bright white color for the scale basin).  Because of the superior properties and the help of a great marketing department, plaskon soon became the plastic of choice when a manufacturer wanted an end product to be a color other than the standard bakelite brown and black.   Over time however they were prone to discoloration and shrinkage from the heat of the tubes.  It is difficult to find a plaskon radio today without some damage. Be careful too as some bakelite cabinets were painted white or colors and are often confused with plaskon.  If you hold a plaskon cabinet up to a light you will be able to see through the cabinet


This one is easy.  Plastic is post WWII and was formed through injection molding and is available in a variety of molded colors.  Clock Radios of the 1950's are a prime example.


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Mitchell 1251

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Airline 365

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General Television


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Silvertone 3351

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Silvertone Bettle Candycane

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Crosley C548A

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Mirrortone Deluxe

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Truetone D1015