Geek Trivia

The Invention Of Which Of These Things Was Critical To The Rapid Adoption Of The Telephone?

Bakelite
PVC
Cellulose
Brass
The First Commercial Filmed In Space Pitched What Product?

Answer: Bakelite

When it comes to the early days of the telephone, there was, naturally, a wide variety of factors contributing indirectly and directly to the adoption of the new technology. Among the most critical, by far, however, was the invention of Bakelite—one of the world’s first synthetic plastics.

Why was Bakelite (known formally as polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride) so critical? The sturdy black plastic was easy to work with and made mass production of telephones possible. In the early 20th century, one of the biggest impediments to the rollout of telephone systems was simply the glacial speed of telephone unit production. You can have miles of wires connecting the whole world, but if there are no phones at the end of the wire, then there are no conversations to be had.

Old telephones, typically handmade from sheet metal and wood, were labor-intensive and a single phone might take a skilled worker a week to produce from start to finish. The switch to compression molded Bakelite plastic reduced production time for phone casings from a week to a mere seven minutes. Once the plastic had cooled, it was merely a matter of adding the necessary wiring and attaching the new plastic casing to the electrical component covered metal base plate. The practice revolutionized the entire telecommunications industry and phone sales exploded.

Image courtesy of Ericsson.