Leo Baekeland’s diaries – 62 of them spanning 1907 to 1934 – are housed in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History archives in Washington, D.C. Before they were given to the Smithsonian, Céline Karraker, Hugh’s mother read them and took meticulous notes with the intention of writing a biography of her grandfather. Another reading of the diaries before they were given to the Smithsonian was by Carl Kaufmann, husband of Céline Karraker’s step sister, Ruth Wyman. Carl used the diaries to flesh out his master’s thesis, “Grand Duke, Wizard and Bohemian: A Biographical Profile of Leo H. Baekeland”, which is available as an ebook on Amazon.com.
In 2015, archivists at NMAH organized a crowd sourcing campaign to digitize the diaries along with many other works in their collections. Volunteers have spent long hours reading the handwritten diaries and transcribing them into a word document. Baekeland’s handwriting was challenging for the most seasoned transcriber and the process was tedious at best. But the stories the diaries tell are engrossing and edifying. Baekeland holds no punches and has opinions that will thrill and horrify. He shows great emotion talking about the playfulness of his colleagues at The Chemists’ Club, as well as the pain of watching his son go off to the Great War. Baekeland has an engaging outlook on everything from women smoking in public, to Belgians eating with their knives, to momentous world events, to flowering fruit trees in his garden.
Volunteers are encouraged to join the digitizing effort of many collected writings by going to the
Smithsonian Transcription Services site.
View Guide to the Leo H. Baekeland Papers, NMAH.AC.005 Smithsonian National Museum of American History, by Robert Harding 1994. Collection requires 15 cubic feet, 49 boxes.
Abstract: The papers document Leo H. Baekeland, a Belgian born chemist who invented Velox photographic paper (1893) and Bakelite (1907), an inexpensive, nonflammable, versatile plastic. The papers include student notebooks; private laboratory notebooks and journals; commercial laboratory notes; diaries; patents; technical papers; biographies; newspaper clippings; maps; graphs; blueprints; account books; batch books; formula books; order books; photographs; and correspondence regarding Baekeland, 1887-1943.