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Nylon

Nylon is a synthetic polymer, a plastic, invented on February 28, 1935 by Wallace Carothers at the E. I. du Pont de Nemours chemical company (Du Pont) of Wilmington, Delaware, USA. The material was announced in 1938 and the first nylon products; a nylon bristle toothbrush made with nylon yarn (went on sale on February 24, 1938) and more famously, women's stockings (went on sale on May 15, 1940). Nylon fibres are now used to make many synthetic fabrics, and solid nylon is used as an engineering material.

Chemically, nylon is a condensation polymer made of repeating units with amide linkages between them: hence it is frequently referred to as a polyamide. It was the first synthetic fibre to be made entirely from inorganic ingredients - coal, water and air. These are formed into the intermediate chemicals amine, hexamethylene diamine and adipic acid, which are then polymerised. The most common variant is nylon 6,6, also called nylon 66.

There is no evidence for the popular belief that "nylon" is a contraction of "NY" (for "New York") and "Lon" for "London", the two cities where the material was first manufactured. In 1940 John W. Eckelberry of Du Pont stated that the letters "nyl" were arbitrary and the "on" was copied from the names of other fibres such as cotton and rayon. A later publication by Du Pont (Context, vol. 7, no. 2, 1978) explained that the name was originally intended to be "No-Run" ("run" in this context meaning "unravel"), but was then modified to avoid making such an unjustified claim and to make it sound better. The word nylon is no longer a trademark.

(There is a conspiracy theory that cannabis was made illegal because the fibres from the hemp plant, used for fabrics and ropes, were too strongly in competition with nylon.)

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