The lights dimmed as Arthur P. Molella stepped to the lectern to express his appreciation for the great honor bestowed on the Smithsonian Institution by the American Chemical Society.
"I must say," began Molella, head curator of science and technology for the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, "I've always been awed by the homeliness of that artifact."
The object of his affection certainly looked the part. Squatting in a corner like a cement mixer was a 6-foot-tall, egg-shaped, fat iron object on a heavy metal stand. No wonder the Smithsonian keeps stuff like this in the basement.
Appearances, however, were deceiving, for Molella's audience was in fact gazing at the original "bakelizer" - the apparatus used by Leo Hendrik Baekeland to make the world's first plastic - bakelite, of course. On Nov. 9, the chemical society, composed of 145,000 Americans who mix things in test tubes for a living, designated the bakelizer as the "First National Historic Chemical Landmark."
Jeffrey L. Sturchio, chairman of the society's History of Chemistry Division, said, "So many things that are a part of our lives go largely unnoticed. Chemistry is ubiquitous."
The society gives no prize money, no restoration money and no community development block grants. Just a plaque, a hearty handclasp and a short ceremony to commemorate the event.
According to University of Texas Professor Jeffrey L. …