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Sunday, 23 October 2016


Though his struggles with depression made him initially reject a lucrative job with the USA chemical firm E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc., organic chemist Wallace Carothers accepted the offer in the late 1920s. Carothers began working at the DuPont Experimental Station on February 6, 1928.

A team of researchers, led by Carothers set out to discover what sorts of materials they could produce from varying combinations of long-chain molecules. In a pioneering process called polymerization they combined atoms into long molecules that varied in the types of atoms used and the ways they were joined, producing an assortment of unique materials.

One day they discovered an unusual property of one of their molten substances: it would stick to a glass rod and form a fine strand. As soon as the strand met the cold air, it solidified and formed a long continuous fiber that was both flexible and strong. The fiber was more stronger and elastic than silk and relatively insensitive to moisture and mildew. The first example was produced on February 28, 1935.

Wallace Carothers in the lab

On February 16, 1937, the du Pont company patented their synthetic textile fiber calling it nylon. The letters "nyl" were arbitrary and the "on" was copied from the suffixes of other fibers such as cotton and rayon.

Wallace Carothers continued to suffer from depression and kept a capsule of cyanide on the chain of his watch. He took his own life with the poison at 41 on April 29, 1937, which meant he never saw the huge success of his material.

One of the first products to be made with this new material was a new type of toothbrush- Dr. West's miracle toothbrush with nylon bristles. Other early uses were for fishing lines and surgical sutures.

DuPont touted its new synthetic textile fibre as being "as strong as steel, as fine as a spider's web."

Nylon stockings was introduced to the American public at the site of the forthcoming World Fair in New York on October 27, 1938. Before nylon, women had to choose between wool, which was hot in summer  and silk, which ran easily.

Nylon stockings appeared on sale for the first time in the U.S in May 1940, retailing at $1.35, The first year on the market, DuPont sold 64 million pairs of nylon stockings.

Nylon stockings being inspected in Malmö, Sweden, in 1954. By Erik Liljeroth, Nordiska museet,

Nylon replaced silk in many different products after silk became scarce during World War II. This included military applications such as parachutes and flak vests of American combatants.

After the war ended, Du Pont went back to selling nylon to the public, engaging in another promotional campaign in 1946 that resulted in an even bigger craze, triggering off "nylon riots".

Nylon is made from coal and petroleum.

Modern armor, used by the army, police, security guards, and people at risk from assassination, uses nylon and fibreglass and is often worn beneath their clothing.

Source Comptons Encyclopedia.

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