The Development of Nylon
Production of the world's first totally synthetic textile fiber, nylon, began in 1939 when the first nylon plant began operations.
In the early 1930′s, Stine was promoted to DuPont’s management committee and Elmer K. Bolton succeeded him as chemical research director. Bolton’s top research priority was the creation of a new synthetic fiber. Thus began the interplay of science and commerce that marks the development process – the “D” of R&D.
New technology was needed to make the raw materials and to form them into a fiber. The market had to be decided upon, an important choice for a material that could compete with cotton, silk, wool, and rayon. The decision to focus on hosiery was crucial. It was a limited, premium market. “When you want to develop a new fiber for fabrics you need thousands of pounds,” said Crawford Greenewalt, a research supervisor during nylon development who later became company president and CEO. “All we needed to make was a few grams at a time, enough to knit one stocking.” In addition, the technology had to be scaled up and a plant built that required materials of construction that were new at the time. And the time was the Great Depression, not the most propitious moment to take a $27 million gamble — the cost of nylon from research through the start-up of the new plant at Seaford, Delaware.
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Excerpted with permission, National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program