The emergence, historical and recent developments of phenolic resins are reviewed. The history of the invention of the first man made plastics and a short bibliography of the inventor Leo H. Baekeland is provided. Moreover, the basic chemistry of phenol-formaldehyde resins, as synthesis of resol and novolak, their structures, variations, and curing are discussed. Modification of these resins and molecular designs for specific applications in retro perspective are highlighted. This review also provides a comprehensive account on the development of benzoxazine resins as an alternative to classical phenolics. In addition to the benzoxazine synthesis and their curing mechanism, special monomers and polybenzoxazine precursors as curable thermoplastics are reviewed. Besides classical chemicals, the potential of renewables for phenolic resin production is also highlighted. Finally, the relative advantages and disadvantages of these systems are discussed and their future potentials are presented.