Monday, February 22, 2010

The Origin of the Name "Nylon"

I received the following article from a Nylon Gene reader, in response to discussion and comments on the previous post titled, "History of Hosiery". Apparently, the popular story of it arising from a contraction of the letters 'NY' for New York, and 'LON' from the first three letters in London, is nothing more than a popular legend. Here's a reprint of the article, written by William B. Jensen, a Chemistry professor at the University of Cincinnnati, OH.

The story of the development of nylon and the tragic suicide of its discoverer, Wallace Hume Carothers (1896–1937), are well known. Nylon’s importance as a landmark in the evolution of commercial synthetic polymers is uncontested and its preparation is still used as a demonstration in introductory chemistry courses. Consequently, it comes as a disappointment that its name is totally devoid of both chemical and historical significance and was selected, not by the chemists involved in its synthesis, but by the managers and executives at Du Pont.

As detailed in Stephen Fenichell’s highly entertaining history of modern plastics and polymers, the more than 350 original contenders for the name of the new polymer included such choices as Amidarn, Amido Silk, Linex, Lastrapon, Moursheen, Poya, Rayamide, Syntex, Tensheer, and Wiralene. Among the more imaginative suggestions were Duparooh(short for “Du Pont pulls a rabbit out of the hat”), Dupron (short for “Du Pont pulls a rabbit out of nitrogen, nature, nozzle, or naphtha”), Delawear (Du Pont is headquartered in the state of Delaware), Duponese, and Wacara (short for Wallace Carothers).

Though the final choice of “nylon” has no intrinsic meaning, this has not prevented others from reading unintended interpretations into the name. Thus many of the visitors to the New York World’s Fair of 1939, where its discovery was first publicly announced, came away believing that it was named after the fair’s famous “Trylon” tower, whereas others believed it was a contraction of New York (NY) and London (LON). Reflecting the growing tensions between Japan and the United States shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, the most bizarre interpretation came from a Japanese newspaper, which contended that Du Pont had developed the polymer for the explicit purpose of destroying the Japanese silk industry and that the name was an acronym for an anti-Japanese (Nipponese) slur.

(Chemical Education Today)

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