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The History of Polyester

Apr 21, 2016

To most people polyester is a synthetic cloth made by spinning polyester yarn, used in the manufacture of clothing and often mixed with other yarns, most notably, cotton. And they would be right~ But polyester has an interesting history that combines intrigue and drama to be worthy of a good movie. So, lights, sound and ACTION.

Our story begins in 1896, Iowa, USA when a certain gent, Wallace Carothers was born. Wallace grew up and studied chemistry before joining Dupont in 1928. During his time at Dupont he and his team were responsible for creating the ground work for ,or discovering many of the compounds we now take for granted, including nylon and neoprene, also known as synthetic rubber. However, Wallace's real fascination lay with polymers.

Under the direction of Dupont, Wallace and his team began researching ways to chemically reproduce silk, and it was during this period around 1930, that one of his lab assistants discovered a  strong, durable polymer that could be heated and drawn out into fine filament or  thread. She was on the verge of creating polyester but this was not in Wallace is sights as he was focused on the creation of nylon and so the discovery went no further.

Nylon became an exceptionally important fibre and a critical ingredient in the war effort so both Dupont and Wallace rose to fame with Wallace marrying Helen Sweetman in 1936. However, despite his success, Wallace was not a totally happy man. Partly as he had always suffered from depression and partly as it seems he found his work at Dupont did not really fulfil is ideal and ambitions as a scientist to work towards the betterment of human kind. This depression was magnified in later life by the death of his sister. Unable to cope any longer Wallace took his own life in 1937, almost 7 months to the day before his daughter was born.

At this point it seemed that polyester had died with him, but 2 years later a group of British scientists began to pick up on Wallace’s research and in 1941 they eventually discovered a polyester fibre which they named Terylene. 5 Years later they sold all rights back to Dupont who went on to produce another polyester fibre, Dacron.

Of course today, polypropylene Staple Fiber  is almost a household name, we see in on the labels of skirts, jackets and trousers made from polyester fabric, on shirts and bedlinen made from a polyester – cotton mix and most of us know it as a replacement for down in the manufacture of quilted jackets and bed covers.

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