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Fascinating facts about the invention of Nylon by Wallace Carothers in 1938. NYLON STOCKINGS
Toward the end of the 1920s an important breakthrough for DuPont Corporation came as a result of fundamental rather than applied research. The head of research noted at the time: "We are including in the budget for 1927 an item of $20,000 to cover what may be called, for want of a better name, pure science or fundamental research work...the sort of work we refer to...has the object of establishing or discovering new scientific facts." In a short time the group that had been put together under this budget had developed an understanding of radical polymerization and established the basic principles for condensation polymerization and the structure of condensation polymers. This led to the invention and commercialization of nylon in 1938--the beginning of the modern materials revolution. (Prior to this, the group yielded neoprene synthetic rubber in 1933.) 
Betty Grable Pin Up Girl Dr. Wallace Hume Carothers, the inventor of nylon, at DuPont.  Dr. Carothers’ work in polymerization set in motion the modern materials revolution that continues to this day in the development of products that replicate nature yet add specific characteristics such as fire resistance, insulation, and light weight plus strength. When Du Pont decided to develop nylon into a commercial fiber, the company specifically intended to use it to compete with silk in the women’s hosiery market. The choice was deliberate, strategic, and significant. Years of research devoted to targeting this particular market proved enormously successful.

"Nylons," as they were soon called, eventually replaced silk stockings. Neither resembled the "panty hose" many women wear today. Covering only about two-thirds of a woman’s leg, from the feet to mid-thigh, stockings were fastened with garters and a belt. They were knitted on highly complex machines. Women could buy them in either "full-fashioned" form with seams at the back or "seamless." One-piece sheer "panty hose" were not developed until the 1960s.

Cultural adjustment to the hosiery made of the new fiber took time. Available to consumers nationwide by 1940, nylon stockings did not become a part of everyday life immediately or automatically. Many forces and events contributed to creating the social meaning of this new product—the 1939 New York World’s Fair, World War II, an enthusiastic press response, consumer tests and surveys, retail and marketing programs, and technical issues of manufacture and testing.

When America entered World War II, first silk and then nylon were commandeered by the federal government (specifically the War Production Board) to supply defense needs. Overnight, stockings made of any materials became hard to find. Nylon became important to the war effort because it was used, for example, in parachutes and tires. On the home front, the popular press presented nylon as a miracle of technology that Americans could again enjoy when the war ended.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
Chemistry History   from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:

Enough for One Lifetime: Wallace Carothers, Inventor of Nylon
by Matthew E. Hermes / Hardcover - 345 pages (June 1996) / Chemical Heritage Foundation
A sensitive biography of the chemist who created condensation polymerization, and gave the world its first synthetic rubber and fiber: neoprene and nylon.
Innovation: Breakthrough Thinking at DuPont
by Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Editor), Fred Wiersema (Contributor), John J. Kao, Tom Peters / Hardcover - 208 pages 1 Ed edition (July 1997) / Harperbusiness
Case studies by executives of 3M, DuPont, GE, Pfizer, and Rubbermaid show their company's commitment to innovation and present lessons learned by these well-known companies that have turned themselves into integrated innovation machines.

ON THE WEB:
Brief History of DuPont
DuPont is one of the oldest continuously operating industrial enterprises in the world. The company was established in 1802 near Wilmington, Delaware, by a French immigrant.
(URL: www.dupont.com/corp/overview/history/ )

Nylon Stockings
On October 27, 1938, Charles Stine, a vice president of E. I. du Pont de Nemours, Inc., announced that nylon had been invented. From The Nylon Drama by David A. Hounshell and John Kenly Smith, Jr. essay on stockings at the Smithsonian.
(URL: invention.smithsonian.org/centerpieces/whole_cloth/u7sf/u7materials/nylondrama.html)
Betty Grable
Lots of pictures of the million dollar legs and more.
(URL: www.bombshells.com/grable/ )
History of Plastics
We all know the many ways that plastics contribute to our health, safety and peace of mind. But how did the material plastic come about?
(URL: www.americanplasticscouncil.org/benefits/about_plastics/history.html)
DuPont Nylon
The origin of DuPont's nylon.
(URL: pubs.acs.org/pin/dupont/dup222p1.html)
Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
National Inventors Hall of Fame
Located at Inventure Place, the online home of creative minds. Inducted in 1984, Wallace Hume Carothers (Apr 27 1896 - Apr 29 1937) for his invention Diamine-Dicarboxylic Acid Salts and Process of Preparing Same; Synthetic Fiber Synthetic Rubber
(URL: www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/28.html)

Plastics Museum
Tragically Wallace Carothers, regarded by his contemporaries as an outstanding chemist, never lived to see his new product become a necessity in modern life.
(URL: www.plastics-museum.com/people/scientists/1.htm)


FUN FACTS:

  • Carothers was a prolific author of articles, and received more than 50 patents,
  • Best remembered for her legs, Betty Grable was one of Hollywood's top stars during the 1940s. She began her film career at the age of thirteen, working steadily throughout the 1930s in bit parts and campus movies. During that period she also spent time as a vocalist for the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra and Jay Whidden's Orchestra. Betty finally achieved top billing in the 1939 Paramount film Million Dollar Legs (ironically, the legs alluded to belong to a racehorse, not Betty!) and soon after was signed by 20th Century Fox, spending most of the 40s as their top box office draw. During WWII, Betty's legs made her even more famous as a pin-up girl. Betty ended her film career in 1955. She spent the rest of her life working on stage. Betty passed away in 1973 after a year-long battle with lung cancer.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised March, 2005.
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