The very first synthetic fiber? It was a revolutionary creation at its invention.
The invention of nylon is credited to the chemist Wallace Carothers, working at DuPont in the 1930s. It was the first successful synthetic fiber, rayon and acetate being plant-based manufactured fibers. This first nylon was polyamide 6,6—made from hexamethylenediamine and adipic acid (the 6,6 designates the two stretches of six carbon atoms that are repeated in the polymer chain). The fiber proved strong, elastic, quick to dry, and insect- and rot-resistant. The first application was in toothbrushes in 1938, but in the next year women’s hosiery became nylon’s first big success. One might even have called it a raging success, the clamor for nylons (as they came to be called) was so great.
During WWII the new fiber was used in the war effort, taking the place of Japanese silk for parachutes. After the war, the clamor for nylons took up where it left off, and soon nylon was used for other garments—and in many household products—as it is to this day.
|Publicity photo for nylon, New York World’s Fair, 1939|