In 1930, Wallace Carothers, Julian Hill, and other researchers for the DuPont Company studied chains of molecules called polymers, in an attempt to find a substitute for silk. Pulling a heated rod from a beaker containing carbon-and alcohol-based molecules, they found the mixture stretched and, at room temperature, had a silky texture. This work culminated in the production of nylon marking the beginning of a new era in synthetic fibers.
Nylon Stockings – 1939 New York World’s Fair
Nylon was first used for fishing line, surgical sutures, and toothbrush bristles. DuPont touted its new fiber as being “as strong as steel, as fine as a spider’s web,” and first announced and demonstrated nylon and nylon stockings to the American public at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
According to The Nylon Drama authors David Hounshell and John Kenly Smith, Charles Stine, vice president DuPont unveiled the world’s first synthetic fiber not to a scientific society but to three thousand women’s club members gathered at the site of the 1939 New York World’s Fair for the New York Herald Tribune’s Eighth Annual Forum on Current Problems. He spoke in a session entitled ‘We Enter the World of Tomorrow’ which was keyed to the theme of the forthcoming fair, the World of Tomorrow.”
Full Scale Production of Nylon Stockings
First Nylon PlantDuPont built the first full-scale nylon plant in Seaford, Delaware, and began commercial production in late 1939.
The company decided not to register nylon as a trademark, according to Dupont they, “choose to allow the word to enter the American vocabulary as a synonym for stockings, and from the time it went on sale to the general public in May 1940, nylon hosiery was a huge success: women lined up at stores across the country to obtain the precious goods.”
The first year on the market, DuPont sold 64 million pairs of stockings. That same year, nylon appeared in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, where it was used to create the tornado that carried Dorothy to the Emerald City.
Nylon Stocking & the War Effort
In 1942, nylon went to war in the form of parachutes and tents. Nylon stockings were the favorite gift of American soldiers to impress British women. Nylon stockings were scarce in America until the end of World War II, but then returned with a vengeance. Shoppers crowded stores, and one San Francisco store was forced to halt stocking sales when it was mobbed by 10,000 anxious shoppers.
Today, nylon is still used in all types of apparel and is the second most used synthetic fiber in the United States.