Skip to main content

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Textile Fibers Department records

1899-1988
 Collection
Accession: 1771

Abstract

The Textile Fibers Department of the DuPont Company was established in 1936 (known then as the Rayon Department), which specialized in researching and developing synthetic fibers for fabrics such as Rayon, Nylon, Teflon, Corian, and Kevlar. The collection consists of research files and other records from the primary divisions of the Textile Fibers Department, including the Pioneering Research Division, Rayon Research Division, Technical Service Section, and the research facilities at the Spruance Plant in Richmond, Virginia, and at the Yerkes Plant in Buffalo, New York. These files document the development of some of DuPont's best known and most commercially successful synthetic fibers: nylon, Dacron, and Orlon. Additionally, there are market research reports assessing product performance and consumer surveys evaluating customer attitudes toward products.

Dates

  • 1899-1988

Creator

Extent

88 Linear Feet

Historical Note

The Textile Fibers Department of the DuPont Company was established in 1936 (known then as the Rayon Department), which specialized in researching and developing synthetic fibers for fabrics such as Rayon, Nylon, Teflon, Corian, and Kevlar. In 1952, the department was renamed to reflect the wider range of fibers being produced and renamed the Fibers Department in 1988.

As early as 1909, the DuPont Company began exploring opportunities to diversify its product line beyond the manufacture of explosives. The company was particularly interested in alternative uses for cellulosic products and the potential to develop a synthetic fiber industry in the United States. Following World War I, the company’s Development Department commissioned studies of existing processes for producing artificial silk and selected the viscose process as the most promising avenue for research.

In 1920, negotiations with the French cartel Comptoir des Textiles Artificiels led to establishing a joint venture known as the DuPont Fibersilk Company to manufacture viscose rayon. The first plant at Buffalo, New York, went into production in 1921. In 1925, as the generic term rayon gained currency within the industry, the name changed to the DuPont Rayon Company.

In 1923, after purchasing the domestic rights to the cellophane manufacturing process from the French firm La Cellophane, S.A., DuPont entered into a second joint venture known as the DuPont Cellophane Company. The DuPont Rayon Company purchased rights to the cellulose acetate process from Usines du Rhone and the rayon process from Societe Rhodiaceta and established the Acetate Process Department in 1928.

DuPont bought out the French interests in the DuPont Rayon Company and the DuPont Cellophane Company in 1928. In 1936 these companies were merged into the parent company and reorganized as the Rayon Department. This new department consisted of three divisions representing the major product lines: Acetate, Cellophane, and Rayon. The former Technical Department, which included research sections for each fiber product, was reconstituted as a division of the Rayon Department. A polymer research program directed by Wallace H. Carothers (1896-1937), which the Chemical Department had launched in 1928, also became part of the Rayon Department in 1936. By 1938, this program had evolved into the Nylon Division. In 1950, the newly created Film Department absorbed the functions of the Cellophane Division.

The Viscose Rayon Research Section was originally organized in 1935 and continued as a unit of the Technical Division following the creation of the Rayon Department in 1936. Research groups worked with viscose rayon at Buffalo as early as 1921, but the program accelerated with the construction of laboratory facilities in 1928. Most of these research facilities were transferred to the Spruance Plant at Richmond, Virginia, in 1940. The Rayon Research Laboratory was closed at the end of 1957. The Pioneering Research Section was organized as part of the Technical Department in 1935 to continue the work of the Special Problems Group, established a decade earlier. Under the direction of William Hale Charch (1898-1958), this section was charged with conducting fundamental research intended to establish new scientific facts without regard to immediate commercial exploitation. Following the initial development stage, projects transferred to the research sections were responsible for developing commercially viable products.

Although domestic consumption of rayon peaked in 1950, DuPont management decided that the capital investment and technical effort required to continue the development of its fully synthetic fibers made it necessary to scale back production of rayon and acetate. During the 1950s, the company’s rayon plants were converted to other uses, and production ceased altogether in 1963.

On January 1, 1952, in recognition of the overwhelming commercial success of nylon and the enormous potential of Dacron polyester fiber and Orlon acrylic fiber, the Rayon Department renamed the Textile Fibers Department. As part of this reorganization, the responsibility for each fiber product was divided along functional lines between manufacturing and sales divisions. Titles changed from sales to marketing in 1960. The research sections, formerly administered by the Technical Division, were established as separate divisions. The Pioneering Research Laboratory moved from Buffalo, New York, to the Experimental Station at Wilmington, Delaware. The department was renamed the Fibers Department in 1988 and DuPont Fibers in 1990.

Scope and Contents

The records of DuPont Fibers are organized into five series. This arrangement reflects the primary functions encompassed within the department.

Series I contains the records of the Pioneering Research Division. These files contain research reports and related memoranda and correspondence, as well as minutes of staff meetings and the patent steering committee. Research studies that investigate the relationship between fiber behavior and polymer structure document ground-breaking research into the physical properties of nitrocellulose, cellulose acetate, viscose rayon, cellophane, polyhydrocarbons, vinyl polymers, polyester, and acrylic fibers. A complete set of serial reports from 1930 to 1955 describe the development of polymers and the polymerization process as it related to the commercial appeal of DuPont's line of synthetic fiber products. The correspondence of laboratory director William Hale Charch (1898-1958) provides insights into how the DuPont Company perceived the relationship between research and commercial markets.

Series II contains the records of the Rayon Research Division, known as the Viscose Rayon Research Section, when it was part of the Rayon Department's Technical Division. The records detail research activities in the period from the late 1930s to the late 1950s. During this period, some of DuPont's best known and most commercially successful synthetic fibers, the "super polymers" nylon, Dacron, and Orlon, were first produced.

Sub-Series A is composed of files from the research facilities at the Spruance Plant in Richmond, Virginia. These records contain correspondence and monthly activity reports which describe progress in cutting-edge research conducted during the 1930s through the 1950s. There is also correspondence relating to administrative matters, competitive products, and end-use evaluation. Other records include files from the War Production Board. A set of rayon research patent notebooks is contained on 88 reels of microfilm.

Sub-Series B contains files from the research laboratory at the Yerkes Plant in Buffalo, New York. These records consist of research reports as well as correspondence relating to research and competitive products.

Series III contains records from the Technical Service Section, responsible for providing technical support to the other divisions within the Textile Fibers Department. These records consist of technical information files that contain information regarding production methods and the physical and chemical properties of various fiber products. These files include correspondence, memoranda, articles reprinted from technical journals, and product information bulletins. Most of these records are from the files of Donald J. Bringardner (1915-1976), who was employed at the Textile Research Laboratory located at DuPont's Chestnut Run facility.

Series IV contains records from the department's numerous sales and marketing divisions. These files consist of market research reports assessing product performance and consumer surveys evaluating customer attitudes toward products. A set of progress and status reports for Fiber 66 record the progress of mill trials to develop a commercial process for producing nylon stockings. Also included in this series are a set of quarterly tire reports compiled by the Rubber Manufacturers' Association.

Series V contains records of the Planning Division. These files consist of recession studies, end-use consumption studies, and research reports.

Series VI contains files from the Patent Division, responsible for providing patent guidelines and assistance to the other divisions within the Textile Fibers Department. These records consist of correspondence, memoranda, and bulletins outlining proper patent procedures. A set of product information pamphlets and brochures profile different fibers produced by DuPont. A collection of publications and speeches pertaining to the Textile Fibers Department and its products is also included. Review of this material by the Patent Division was essential to ensure that the information disseminated was accurate and protect the patent's integrity.

Series VII contains the Vertical File. These records include a history of the Textile Fibers Department, miscellaneous technical manuals and reports, and departmental handbooks and organization charts.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

Related Materials

Oral history interviews with former employees of DuPont Company's Textile Fibers Department (Accession 2010.215), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

DuPont Company Textile Fibers Product Information photographs (Accession 1984.259), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

DuPont Company Textile Fabrics Department videotapes, photographs, slides and promotions (Accession 2011.320), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Textile Fibers Department records
Status:
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Revision Statements

  • 2022: Encoded by Diane Bockrath and Angela Schad

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400