Wallace H. Carothers patents nylon

Wallace Carothers could have testified to how much necessity births invention. As a young chemical scientist for DuPont, he spent his most productive days in search of a synthetic replacement for rubber, which only came from a few plants in some rather inhospitable places. By 1931, he had an early form of synthetic rubber, so he moved on to working on fibers – silk was becoming a scarcity, as its main importer, Japan, was on increasingly strained terms with the U.S. It took him three more years, but from that necessity he finally invented a compound that would become one of the most indispensable materials of the rest of the century.

On this day, February 16, in 1937, Carothers filed a patent for nylon — technically called Nylon 6-6, for the six atoms in its molecules. Two more years for refinement and Nylon hit the market.

DuPont knew exactly where their product’s future lay. Charles Stine, the company VP, chose to unveil it not to a scientific society but to three thousand women’s club members gathered at the site of the 1939 New York World’s Fair for the New York Herald Tribune’s Eighth Annual Forum on Current Problems.