Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bakelite and the EKCO AD65 Radio

Bakelite is regarded as the precursor to all modern plastics. Along with celluloid, it was the first moldable, commercially viable synthetic. Its invention can also be looked at a precursor to deco and modern design: without it, there wouldn't have been a way to mass produce products with smooth, flowing lines.
Bakelite was used mostly in Industrial applications until 1927, when its patent lapsed and it broke into more widespread use. The 1930s and 40s were the age of Bakelite and it was used in everything from jewelry to chairs. In 1936 FORTUNE crowned the Bakelite king of plastics and wrote: "Your fountain pen, your light switch, your lampshades and spectacle frames, electrical insulators of all kind and your telephone receiver - everything is almost entirely consisting of bakelite plastic"
In 1934 Modernist architect and designer, Wells Coates designed the iconic AD-65 radio made out of Bakelite. He was strongly influenced by Le Corbusier and the ideals of Modernism, writing in 1933 that ‘the most fundamental technique is the replacement of natural materials by scientific ones’. The use of Bakelite fitted this programme well. The bakelite radio case & speaker replaced wood and other more costly materials, radically reducing the radio's cost during the depression. Bakelite is one of the reasons that the radio, the first tool of live mass communication, was able to get into millions of homes across the world during the 1930s.
The EKCO AD65 remains one of the world’s all-time favourite radio models. It is this radio more than any other that especially excites radio collectors and prices have been known to go through the roof. It was a radio that looked exciting and modern and so reflected the feelings of people who were just starting to discover the world of broadcasting and worldwide communications
By the end of the 30s Bakelite increasingly entered into competition with other plastics like Catalin, Melamin, Plaskon, Nylon which all had a decisive advantage: in opposition to Bakelite, which was only deliverable in dark colours, they were easily colorable in any color you wanted. So the way was paved for all the tastlessness of the coming decades and the unending age of plastic!


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