Phenol has been in production since the 1860s. One of the early
uses for phenol was as an antiseptic. Towards the end of the 19th
century, industrial scientists found new uses for phenol in the
synthesis of dyes, aspirin, and one of the first high explosives,
picric acid. As early as 1872, it was found that phenol could
be condensed with aldehydes (for example methanal) to make resinous
compounds, a process still in use today.
Phenol-methanal (formaldehyde) resins are the basis of the oldest
plastics, and are still used to make low cost thermosetting plastics
such as melamine and bakelite, used in electrical equipment. These
resins are also used extensively as bonding agents in manufacturing
wood products such as plywood and MDF.
Phenol is also used to make chemical intermediates for a wide
range of other applications, ranging from plastics to pharmaceuticals
and agricultural chemicals.