Coming to America
Leo Baekeland was born into humble beginnings on Nov. 14, 1863, in Ghent, Belgium. His father, Karel, was a shoemaker. Young Leo was learning the cobbler trade, and his father opposed his wish for an education. But his mother, Rosalia, a domestic servant, had always considered him to be gifted, according to the book, They Made America, by Harold Evans. She got their son a scholarship to a government high school, where he excelled.
A childhood interest in photography got him interested in chemistry.
He went on to graduate with honors from Ghent University, studying under Professor Theodore Swarts. He fell in love with his mentor’s daughter, Celine Swarts. After a short stint as a professor at another school, he returned to Ghent University to become a professor, do research, and be near Celine again.
Professor Swarts did not approve of their relationship. But Baekeland married Celine Swarts on Aug. 8, 1889. Two days later they set sail for New York on a combined honeymoon and study trip, financed though an academic fellowship.
He was a rising star of chemistry in Belgium, but Baekeland never looked back to his native land. Instead, he made his famous breakthroughs in the United States.
At Ghent, Baekeland would have had a secure career and support for his chemistry experiments. But America was the land where applied science and raw commerce could bring good ideas to the marketplace. And New York was its epicenter.
“He felt that the atmosphere over here was more conducive to his way of thinking and his innovative dreams of helping create something exciting in the world,” said Hugh Karraker, Leo Baekeland’s great-grandson. Karraker, of Redding, Conn., has dedicated himself to publicizing Baekeland’s accomplishments in this 100th anniversary year.
Feeding off his love for photography, Baekeland first worked as a chemist in the photographic industry. A decade later, he was a partner in a company that invented Velox photo-printing paper. In 1899, George Eastman, whose Eastman Kodak Co. was bringing photography to the masses, bought Velox for $1 million.
Barely 36, Baekeland was a millionaire. He and his family moved to the Snug Rock estate overlooking the Hudson River in Yonkers. He never had to work again. Even so, an early retirement was the last thing on Baekeland’s mind, according to his great-grandson. He used the money to finance independent research into one of his topics of study back in Ghent: the chemical reactions between phenols and formaldehydes.
“He was not a man to sit still,” Karraker said. “He was an avid inquisitor. He questioned everything and wanted to follow up on this search for this substitute for shellac.”
The master chemist also did not enjoy high-society life. “He shunned all the trappings of wealth,” Karraker said. “His thought was the rich were idle and he didn’t want to be idle. He had a strong opinion about anybody talking a lot about their money.”
Baekeland set up a small laboratory next to his home.

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1863年11月14日,利奥.贝克兰德(Leo Baekeland)出生在比利时根特(Ghent)的一个卑微家庭。他的父亲卡勒尔( Karel) 是一个鞋匠。年轻利奥学习cobbler贸易,而他的父亲反对他受教育的愿望。根据哈罗德.埃文斯(Harold Evans)的《他们创造了美国》一书,但他的母亲罗莎丽亚(Rosalia) ,一个佣人,则总认为他有天赋。她让儿子取得政府高中的奖学金,在那里他表现出色。
他继而师承西奥多.斯瓦茨(Thwodore Swarts)教授,带着荣誉从根特大学毕业。他深深爱上了恩师的女儿,塞林. 斯瓦茨(Celine Swarts) 。经过在另外一所中学执教的短暂离别后,他回到根特大学成为一名教授,从事研究,并再次接近塞林。
斯瓦茨教授不同意他们之间的关系。但贝克兰德尔还是在1889年8月8日娶了塞林. 斯瓦茨。两天后,他们起航前往纽约,开始蜜月与研究之旅,经费由一个学术团体赞助。
“他认为这里的氛围更有利于他的思维方式和创意梦想,在世界上创建奇迹”,利奥.贝克兰德的大孙子休.卡拉克(Hugh Karraker)说。卡拉克(康涅狄格州雷丁)在百年纪念之际,积极致力于宣扬贝克兰德的成就。
出于对摄影的爱好,贝克兰德先作为一名化学家,在摄影工业工作。十年后,他是一家发明了Velox照片打印纸公司的合伙人。1899年,乔治.伊士曼(George Eastman)的伊士曼.柯达公司将摄影推向大众,花了100万美元购买Velox。
仅仅36岁,贝克兰德就成为一名百万富翁。他和他的家人迁移到乐趣岩石屋(Snug Rock),可以俯瞰杨克斯(Yonkers)的哈德逊河(Hudson River)。他再也没有重新出去工作。但即使如此,据他的大孙子介绍,提早退休是贝克兰德心灵中最后的事情。他用这笔钱资助了一项独立研究,早年在根特的一个研究课题:酚类和醛类之间的化学反应。
“他依然闲不住,” 克拉克说,“是一个渴望寻根问底的人。他质疑一切,期望寻求虫胶的替代物。”
作为主任化学家,他没有享受高层社会的生活。 “他避免显示财富的华丽服饰,” 克拉克说,“他的思想是富有即空虚,而他不希望虚度年华。他对任何人大谈金钱而持有强烈的意见。”
2007-11-09 23:22
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