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White Dolly Switch

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A gently rounded dolly or tumbler switch manufactured from a modern, white plastic. The proportions (measures 2in diameter and protrudes 1.75in) and colour are both suitable for restoration jobs that encompass the late 1920s to the end of the 1950s. This switch is suitable for both 1- and 2- way applications.

Early Electric Switches.

When Edison and Swan first tried to popularise their new electrical lighting systems for domestic use their main competitors were the gas lighting companies. Heavy marketing was required to help potential customers understand the advantages of the new invisible power source and, Edison particularly, endeavoured to develop all the accessories necessary to make installation easy. Electricity was far less dangerous than gas, it was cleaner, did not smell, was instant in its operation and gave a brighter light.

To help his customers make the transition from gas to electricity, the earliest electrical switches were of a rotary type - one that emulated the gas tap that the public had been used to. Up until the first world war (in Britain at least - in US for longer) these switches were available. But, at least from the 1890s, numerous companies began to develop the toggle, tumbler, rocker or dolly switch that we know today.

All examples, until the advent of plastics (in this case Bakelite), were mounted on a ceramic insulating base. This was coloured black, brown or white and the switch mechanism was enclosed by a brass cover (or rarely a ceramic cover that could be ordered decorated in gold leaf and colours). The earliest were ribbed or fluted, popular until the 1920s, thereafter the cover was usually smooth.

These brass covers could be ordered in special finishes - the General Electric Company offered Oxidised Silver, Antique Bronze and Copper coatings. From the late 20s and early 30s the new material, Bakelite, found a use in electrical fittings. In the UK at least, these were available in mottled brown, marketed as Walnut, or white. Catalogues from the late 1960s were still carrying dolly switches made in Bakelite, but brass covered switches had disappeared in the wake of the second world war when metals were scarce.

Bakelite - Leo Hendrik Baekeland was born in Ghent, Belgium, in 1863. He emigrated to the United States in 1889. His first major invention was Velox, a photographic printing paper that could be developed under artificial light. Baekeland sold the rights to Velox to George Eastman and Kodak for one million dollars in 1899. He then started his own laboratory in Yonkers, New York, where he invented Bakelite in 1907, a synthetic substitute for the shellac used in electronic insulation and an alternative to celluloid, a very inflammable mouldable resin.

Bakelite was made by mixing carbolic acid with formaldehyde, and is considered the first plastic. In 1909, Bakelite was introduced to the general public at a chemical conference as Baekeland founded the General Bakelite Corp. In 1944, Baekeland died at the age of eighty years in Beacon, N.Y.

Bakelite was used to manufacture everything from telephone handsets and costume jewellery to engine parts and insulation for electrical parts.


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