Today in History – December 15, 1939 – First commercial manufacture of nylon yarn. Wallace Hume Carothers led a team of researchers at DuPont to develop the world’s first totally synthetic fiber. Dupont turned their experimental laboratory in Wilmington, Delaware into a full-fledged industrial process and industry. Before the invention of nylon became a name associated with stockings, DuPont tested prototype machinery on a product calledDr. West’s Miracle-Tuft toothbrushes that had bristles made from nylon. DuPont kept the chemical nature of the new bristles secret during this trial period. The response was positive as consumers liked having a toothbrush that dried out between uses, unlike the old boar’s hair bristle brushes.
During World War II, nylon replaced Japanese silk for parachutes and tents. After World War II nylon and nylon composite products became popular for wind breakers, backpacking gear, lingerie, “wash and wear” clothing, carpeting, fishing line, rope, sails, automobile parts, and strings for musical instruments.
With concerns of global warming, environmental pollution and sustainable engineering, pervasive use of nylon has come under question, withestimates that 10% of the annual increase in atmospheric NOx may come from nylon production. New research in green chemistry and bioplastics emphasizes ”developing economically viable products and processes that require fewer reagents, less solvent, and less energy than conventional processes, while being safer, generating less waste, and having a lower environmental impact”. Consumers are leading the way in demanding more environmentally friendly forms of nylon and alternatives.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway’s educational resources on Dupont and Nylon, as well as global warming, environmental pollution, and green chemistry. For related curricular resources, visit the Chemical Engineering Education or the Environmental Engineering Education disciplinary communities.
Also on this date in 1965, Gemini 6 launched and made first rendezvous in space with Gemini 7.