little-known secrets behind the men & women who shaped
Velox paved the way for 'the material of a thousand uses'
By Paul Niemann
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[May 22, 2008]
Take a look at some of the most revolutionary
inventions in American history -- the telephone, mass-produced cars,
vulcanized rubber, radio and television -- and try to imagine life
without them. When they were created and first marketed to the
masses, they were revolutionary; now they're taken for granted.
Even the more recent
breakthroughs such as personal computers, cell phones and the
Internet are items that we cannot live without.
But there was a material developed in the summer of 1907 that
could be considered as important as most of the above-mentioned
products. Its inventor was a Belgian-born chemist named Leo, who
lived in Yonkers, N.Y., with his wife and two children.
This revolutionary product wasn't the Velox mentioned in the
headline of this story. Actually, I had never even heard of Velox
before now. Leo crossed paths with another great inventor whose
invention you could not live without.
His name was George. It was George who bought the rights to Velox
to use in developing his invention in the 1890s. George paid Leo $1
million for the rights to Velox, which was a type of photographic
paper that allowed photographers to develop film with artificial
light instead of having to rely on sunlight. George wanted it for
his photography business.
George was George Eastman, founder of Kodak. It's always
interesting when famous people cross paths with other famous people,
like when the inventor of Velox met the inventor of modern
For example, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison knew each
other. Samuel Morse's father was friends with Noah Webster (as in
Webster's dictionary). Charles Lindbergh, who most people don't know
was also an inventor, worked briefly for Henry Ford.
[to top of second column]
Tom Baldwin, inventor of the modern parachute, knew the Wright
brothers because he was in a race with them to develop the first
airplane. And Joshua Lionel Cowan, the inventor of Lionel trains,
was friends with Conrad Hubert, founder of the Eveready Battery
But there's more to this story, and it has nothing to do with
George Eastman or Kodak.
You see, Leo used the million dollars to develop a brand-new
product -- actually it was a material rather than a product -- that
most people cannot imagine living without.
You might not recognize the name of Leo Hendrik Baekeland, but
you might recognize his invention of synthetic plastic by the brand
name of Bakelite. It was his synthetic plastic, not his Velox, that
was advertised as "the material of a thousand uses."
Baekeland provides another example of famous people crossing
paths with other famous people: Leo Baekeland and his wife, Celine,
bought the Florida house that formerly was owned by William Jennings
Bryan. Bryan was the presidential candidate who lost to William Taft
in the 1908 election.
Paul Niemann is the author of the
"Invention Mysteries" series of books. He can be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2008