The ‘birth’ of Nylon

It was on Thursday 28th February 1935 that Wallace Hume Carothers, the leader of organic chemistry at the DuPont Experimental Station, was credited with the invention of nylon.

This silky material was first used commercially in a nylon-bristled toothbrush in 1938. It was first introduced as a fabric at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and first used in women’s stockings in 1940.  It was then that ‘nylons’ became a descriptive word!  Nylon was actually intended to be a synthetic replacement for silk and, during World War II, replaced silk in military uses such as parachutes and protective flack vests.  It was also used in many types of vehicle tyres.

In the mid-1940s the classical guitarist Andres Segovia mentioned the shortage of good guitar strings in the United States, particularly his favourite Pirastro catgut strings, to a number of foreign diplomats at a party, including General Lindeman of the British Embassy. A month later, the General presented Segovia with some nylon strings which he had obtained via some members of the DuPont family. Segovia found that although the strings produced a clear sound, they had a faint metallic timbre which he hoped could be eliminated.  In 1946, Segovia and string maker Albert Augustine were introduced by their mutual friend Vladimir Bobri, the editor of Guitar Review. On the basis of Segovia’s interest and Augustine’s past experiments, they decided to pursue the development of nylon strings. DuPont were sceptical of the idea, but agreed to supply the nylon if Augustine would endeavour to develop and produce the actual strings. After three years of development, Augustine demonstrated a nylon first string whose quality impressed guitarists, including Segovia, in addition to DuPont.  Wound strings proved more problematic but eventually, after experimenting with various types of metal, smoothing and polishing techniques, Augustine produce high quality nylon wound strings.

 

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