Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Famous inventions: Nylon

nylonWould you like to be brushing your teeth with animal bristles? - thank goodness for nylon!

In 1928, the DuPont chemical company opened a research laboratory for the development of artificial materials, deciding that basic research was the way to go. Wallace Carothers was appointed to lead Dupont's research division. He and his team were the first to investigate the acetylene family of chemicals.

Instead of silk

In 1931, the research team turned their efforts towards a synthetic fibre that could replace silk. Japan was the United States' main source of silk, and trade relations between the two countries were breaking apart. Silk was vital to the US Army, as it was used for making parachutes.

By 1934, Wallace Carothers had made significant steps toward creating a synthetic silk by combining the chemicals amine, hexamethylene diamine and adipic acid to create a new fibre formed by the polymerizing process and known as a condensation reaction. In a condensation reaction, individual molecules join with water as a byproduct. Wallace Carothers refined the process by adjusting the equipment so that the water was distilled and removed from the process making for stronger fibres. DuPont patented the new fibre as "nylon" the following year.

What we use it for now

Although it was only supposed to be used for parachutes, many other uses of nylon have been discovered. It has been used in clothing, climbing ropes, guitar strings, toothbrush bristles, and even sausage skins!