Today we conveniently use high-quality toothbrushes, guitar strings, bankable racket strings, plush carpets, lifesaving surgical sutures, and hosiery. All of these essential items are made of nylon thread, which shook the textile industry more than 80 years ago. With the invention of material as synthetic and dependable as nylon, the Japanese silk industry suffered a major blow.
Even in its initial discovery phase, the researchers had a hunch that this new material was going to outlaw rayon – its predecessor. Rayon, also termed as artificial silk, was regarded as the first-ever synthetic fiber to be produced that promised maximum comfort, disposability, and ease. Nylon thread was also vehemently utilized in mass production of military equipment during World War II, such as tow ropes, flak jackets, mosquito netting, hammocks, fuel tanks, and even in aircraft.
Let us take you through a tour of how the nylon thread was born and how it was marketed initially.
History of Nylon Thread – A Timeline
If it were not for the production of rayon, we would not have discovered nylon thread. DuPont – a company, born after the merger of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company and Comptoir Textiles Artificiels – started experimenting with cellulose. They became one of the biggest producers of rayon, which proved to be a predecessor of nylon.
After persistent proposals from Charles M. A. Stine, the director of DuPont’s chemical department, the company started researching for new and improved chemicals from scratch. A huge fund was granted to the research department in 1927, and Stine hired the top scientists of the country to do the job.
The research program started looking more promising when Stine was able to hire Wallace Carothers to join the research team. Carothers was a teacher at Harvard. He was regarded as the best at studying polymers. It was not until the year 1930 that Carothers and his team reported their first attempt at making polyester. This new material had elastic properties and could produce a four times longer thread than the original one when stretched.
However, because of a low melting point, this material could not succeed as a commercial textile fiber as it could not be washed or ironed.
After repeated trials and testing, the research team working under Carothers made a groundbreaking discovery of two important polyamides, polyamide [5,10] and [6,6], which could lead to the production of the present-day nylon. The team settled on the second one, polyamide [6,6], as it could be prepared from benzene, an easily available chemical from coal tar.
1938 was the year when, after finalizing all the processes, DuPont initiated a nylon production facility in Delaware. The times were changing for the textile industry.
Nylon for Ladies Only
Though nylon is now used to produce countless textile and non-textile items, initially DuPont decided to go with producing only one consumer product – ladies’ fashion hosiery. With the shifts in the mindsets, women’s dresses started becoming shorter, and hosiery took the place of a fashion ornament rather than a necessity.
Women started demanding more and more fashion hosiery as the rayon stocking became popular. DuPont released the first-ever nylon hosiery in the year 1938. The response was staggering. Women jumped at the sales, and everybody wanted it. Besides producing nylon hosiery, DuPont also sold nylon threads to the textile companies.
A Shift in the Focus
Just in two years after the initial release of nylon-based full-fashioned hosiery, DuPont had captured more than 30% of the hosiery market. However, a significant change in focus brought a gap in the production and availability of the nylon hosiery. In 1941, DuPont shifted its entire focus on the production of military items instead of women’s hosiery.
By the year 1942, DuPont had been supplying almost all of the nylon produced to the making of netting, glider tow ropes, and flak jackets for the military. This created a severe demand-supply gap among the consumers, which led to a boom in black markets in nylon hosiery.
Regarded as one of the most significant milestones in the history of nylon thread, June 1946 saw more than 40,000 people trying to get their hands on about 13,000 pairs of nylon socks. The demand for nylon stocking was astonishingly high, and DuPont had to ask its customers to pay in advance.
Perhaps in fear of not meeting the demand or for avoiding any antitrust legal suit, DuPont chemicals officially started licensing nylon production to their competitors in 1951. It was a major step in increasing nylon production multiple times.
Initial Marketing of Nylon Thread
As nylon hosiery, especially stockings, transformed women’s wardrobe and fashion, DuPont knew exactly what it had to do to bring all the focus on this newfound Holy grail of textile. It went on to hit the sophisticated target market and got in touch with the Parisian fashion brands.
The sales team of the company generously supplied samples of nylon thread to numerous big names in the Parisian couturiers. The fame and production of nylon thread witnessed a boom when in 1955, famous fashion brands such as Christian Dior, Jean Patou, and Coco Chanel showcased gowns made out of nylon thread at the Paris fashion show.
The photographs of the fashion show created a big stir in the US fashion industry. Soon, numerous other top fashion brands started marketing the nylon-based fashion garments such as Nina Ricci, Pierre Cardin, the New York Couture Group, etc.
Environmental Movements and Nylon Blends
During the 1960s, nylon thread hopped off the runways and couturiers high-end products and entered the everyday consumer market. However, the wear and tear of the clothes disclosed a downside to all the hyped qualities of nylon. Nylon trapped the moisture and in return was unbearable to be worn in hot and humid weather.
Moreover, by the end of 1960s, the world became more awakened about environmental issues, and nylon popularity saw a significant decline. People started going back to natural fibers such as cotton and wool. Nevertheless, major nylon blends were introduced in the market.
Nylon thread was reintroduced with a mix of cotton, polyester, or spandex, and this resulted in a wide variety of blended fabrics that addressed the issues. The decade of 1970s again witnessed a rise in the demand of the nylon thread but with a blended version.
Nylon all the way
Though nylon might not be the go-to material for most of the consumer textile industries, it has secured an important place in the production of many other goods. From the production of fishing equipment to camping essentials and from leashes to strings and children’s toys, nylon still has an important place in the goods manufacturing industry. Also, it has revolutionized the plastic industry and gifted us with one of the most used materials of all the times – plastics.
Nylon might not be the biggest revenue generator for DuPont, but it does hold the place of a material that revolutionized the whole textile industry. If we look back and ponder, we would realize that without nylon, we would not probably be having plastic!