Nylon is the generic name given to a family of synthetic polymers called the aliphatic polyamides. Nylon is among the most commonly used polymers. Nylon was first discovered on February 28, 1935, by the famous scientist Wallace Carothers at the DuPont research facility, also called the DuPont Experimental Station, near Wilmington, Delaware.
Wallace Carothers was born on April 27, 1896, in Burlington, Iowa, in the United States. An organic chemist by profession, Carothers completed his Ph. D in Chemistry at the University of Illinois and went on to teach at many renowned educational institutions in America. Later, Carothers started to work at the DuPont Experimental Station laboratory.
In 1928, the DuPont chemical company took an incredible innovative stride and decided to set up a laboratory for research – the move, though quite the norm now, was certainly well ahead of its times for a company of the early 20th century. The move was also fueled by a desire to move from the manufacture of explosives to industrial chemicals. The folks at DuPont believed that by examining the fundamentals of chemistry, more specifically into the acetylene family, a number of industrial applications could be developed. And this was Wallace Carothers’ main area of research.
Working at the the DuPont Experimental Station, Wallace Carothers had already discovered the technique for waterproofing the cellophane – a regenerated cellulose sheet which was made transparent and could be put to use in various packaging industries. Carothers and his team next set out to work in a fiber which would be known for its exceptional rigidity strength, and durability, they called it Fibre 66. Carothers spent over seven years in researching Fibre 66. His discovery, on February 28, 1935, was initially meant to replace animal hair as the bristles of a toothbrush and replace the silk fibre in stockings.
Carothers wrote over 30 papers defining the terminology for polymer production and laying down new standards. He then set out to demonstrate the different uses of nylon and the various ways this material could be put to use. His experiments were a resounding success and nylon gained acceptance worldwide.
In the interest of commercial sales, the committee responsible for nomenclature at the DuPont Experimental Station renamed Fibre 66, ‘No Run’, suggesting that the fabric would not unravel. The claim, however, seemed an unjustified and ostentatious one besides being misleading as no fabric would be run-proof. The vowels were interchanged t then create ‘nuron’ which was later changed to “nilon” (since nuron seemed to sound like a nerve tonic). The ‘i’ was later changed to a ‘y’ to aid correct pronunciation. This explanation was published by DuPont in 1978. It is commonly suggested, though, that the nylon fibre was thus named to gain popularity in New York (NY) and London (Lon) where it was first introduced. Nylon was patented by DuPont the next year.
Nylons eventually went on to take the world by storm. Apart from being used in hairbrushes and stockings, as originally envisioned, nylon became a favorite fabric for the garment industry to experiment with. During World War II, DuPont designed new sturdier parachutes which would replace Asian silk and hemp with nylon. Nylon soon became the favorite material in the manufacture of tents, ropes, tires, and other essential military supplies. Nylon derivatives are now universally used in various industries and for domestic purposes.
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