Posted on February 16, 2015
“Necessity is the mother of invention.”
That old saying means that, when faced with a problem and trying to come up with a solution, people often come up with new ideas. They invent new procedures or create new devices. They innovate!
In the 1930s, the U.S. faced the problem of having a pretty yucky relationship with Japan. And the relationship was getting worse and worse, not better. (In just a few years, the two nations would be fighting against each other in World War II!)
One of the problems with a bad-and-getting-worse relationship with Japan was that the latter nation was the world's leading producer of silk. And Americans used and wanted silk. We didn't want to have to rely on an enemy for one of our favorite fabrics!
So...the necessity of wanting to find a substitute for silk led to the invention of nylon!
A bit of history, a dab of science...
Today is the anniversary of the 1937 patent for nylon, issued to Wallace H. Carothers.
Carothers and other chemists working for DuPont knew about polymers, huge molecules made of long chains of repeated elements. They were trying to come up with a polymer that would make a useful fabric, but as they created fibers, a small amount of water was produced; the water would drip back into the mixture and weaken the fibers.
Carothers had to use a machine called a “molecular still,” which pulled out the fibers once they had cooled. Now the fibers were much longer and stronger, and more “elastic” or able to resume normal shape after being pulled or otherwise distorted.
Nylon was soon being used for toothbrushes, women's stockings, parachutes, bridal veils, flak vests, carpets, tents, rope, and so much more!
Nylon was the first commercially successful human-made polymer. Since its invention, many more polymers have been invented and sold and used and enjoyed. Just a few more include Kevlar, Mylar, Orlon, Teflon, and polyvinylchloride (PVC).
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