Nylon is a generic designation for a family of synthetic polymers, more specifically aliphatic or semi-aromatic polyamides. They can be melt processed into fibres, films or shapes. The first example of nylon (nylon 66) was produced on February 28, 1935, by Wallace Carothers at DuPont's research facility at the DuPont Experimental Station. Nylon polymers have found significant commercial applications in fibres (apparel, flooring and rubber reinforcement), in shapes (moulded parts for cars, electrical equipment, etc.), and in films (mostly for food packaging)
Nylon is a thermoplastic, silky material, first used commercially in a nylon-bristled toothbrush (1938), followed more famously by women's stockings ("nylons"; 1940) after being introduced as a fabric at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Nylon is made of repeating units linked by amide bonds and is a type of polyamide and is frequently referred to as such Nylon was the first commercially successful synthetic thermoplastic polymer. Commercially, nylon polymer is made by reacting monomers which are either lactams, acid/amines or stoichiometric mixtures of diamines (-NH2) and diacids (-COOH). Mixtures of these can be polymerized together to make copolymers. Nylon polymers can be mixed with a wide variety of additives to achieve many different property variations.
Nylon was intended to be a synthetic replacement for silk and substituted for it in many different products after silk became scarce during World War II. It replaced silk in military applications such as parachutes and flak vests, and was used in many types of vehicle tires.
After initial commercialization of nylon as a fiber, applications in the form of shapes and films were also developed. The main market for nylon shapes now is in auto components, but there are many others.
- Exceptionally strong
- Abrasion resistant
- Easy to wash
- Resistant to damage from oil and many chemicals
- Can be precolored or dyed in wide range of colors
- Low in moisture absorbency
- Filament yarns provide smooth, soft, long-lasting fabrics
- Spun yarns lend fabrics light weight and warmth
Some Major Nylon Fiber Uses
- Apparel: Blouses, dresses, foundation garments, hosiery, lingerie, underwear, raincoats, ski apparel, windbreakers, swimwear, and cycle wear
- Home Furnishings: Bedspreads, carpets, curtains, upholstery
- Industrial and Other Uses: Tire cord, hoses, conveyer and seat belts, parachutes, racket strings, ropes and nets, sleeping bags, tarpaulins, tents, thread, monofilament fishing line, dental floss
Bill Pittendreigh, DuPont, and other individuals and corporations worked diligently during the first few months of World War II to find a way to replace Asian silk and hemp with nylon in parachutes. It was also used to make tires, tents, ropes, ponchos, and other military supplies. It was even used in the production of a high-grade paper for U.S. currency. At the outset of the war, cotton accounted for more than 80% of all fibers used and manufactured, and wool fibers accounted for nearly all of the rest. By August 1945, manufactured fibers had taken a market share of 25%, at the expense of cotton. After the war, because of shortages of both silk and nylon, nylon parachute material was sometimes repurposed to make dresses.
In 1940, John W. Eckelberry of DuPont stated that the letters "nyl" were arbitrary and the "on" was copied from the suffixes of other fibers such as cotton and rayon. A later publication by DuPont (Context, vol. 7, no. 2, 1978) explained that the name was originally intended to be "No-Run" ("run" meaning "unravel"), but was modified to avoid making such an unjustified claim. Since the products were not really run-proof, the vowels were swapped to produce "nuron", which was changed to "nilon" "to make it sound less like a nerve tonic". For clarity in pronunciation, the "i" was changed to "y".
An alternative but apocryphal explanation for the name is that it is a combination of New York and London: NY-Lon.