Velox Photo Paper

Baekeland, a chemistry student, worked on an improved photographic paper. Before his invention, photo papers required bright sunlight for exposure. This constraint limited photo developing to daylight hours on sunny days and made photo print results unpredictable. Baekeland created a high contrast reliable photo paper. His paper was sensitive enough to work with gas lighting, that was easier to control and predict than sunlight. He named his paper Velox and sold it to Kodak in 1899.

Baekeland’s share of the $750,000 in proceeds was $215,000, a fortune at that time. Putting the amount into context, a 6-bedroom house in Philadelphia cost $15/month to rent and the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court was paid $10,500/year. Although photo paper would make much more money over time for Kodak, Baekeland was an extremely wealthy young man.

Few companies have repeatedly proven more short-sighted over time than Kodak and, true to form, the sale came with a 20-year non-compete. Rather than hire the brilliant inventor the company locked him out of the market for decades. Instead of creating more products for Kodak, he eventually focused his efforts on plastic and invented the wildly successful Bakelite. Baekeland died extremely wealthy.

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