George Stimpson

His life and works

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Who invented rayon?

No one person deserves the entire credit for inventing rayon, which is now the recognized trade name in the United States for all synthetic fibers formerly known as artificial or imitation silk, regardless of the process of manufacture. The lustrous filaments of the fiber are made from various solutions of modified cellulose, such as wood pulp and cotton linters in a proper solvent, which are pressed or drawn through orifices and solidified by means of a precipitating medium. In 1664 Robert Hooke, an English experimental physicist, published a book [page 83] in which he described a microscopic examination of natural silk and suggested the possibility of producing a similar thread artificially. René de Réaumur, the French scientist, made a similar suggestion in 1734. Perhaps the first patent for the use of nitrocellulose for the specific purpose of manufacturing imitation silk was that taken out in England in 1855 by Georges Audemars of Lausanne. The modern rayon industry, however, did not really begin until after 1884, when Count Hilaire Chardonnet of France patented his method of imitat­ing the silkworm in the production of a filament of cellulose. As a student Chardonnet had worked in Paris with Pasteur, who sought a cure for a silkworm disease, and while watching silkworms convert the cellulose of mulberry trees into silk the young chemist was in­pired to imitate their achievement. His first successful silk substitute yarn was exhibited at the Paris Exposition in 1889. In 1923 the National Retail Dry Goods Association of the United States invited a number of associations to form a committee to select a substitute for artificial silk, which was considered inadequate and misleading as the name of a new, authentic textile material. After considering many suggestions submitted by the public, glos was adopted by the committee on January 25, 1924. This term, however, failed to meet with general approval, and therefore another committee was appointed to choose a more euphonious word. This second committee consisted of twenty men who represented the leading manufacturers and consumers of artificial silk. Its chairman was S. A. Salvage, president of the Viscose Company, pioneer rayon manufacturer in the United States. In a letter dated September 4, 1928, and addressed to the author, Salvage explained how rayon was coined: "We started with no idea, but we felt that a two-syllable word would be preferable, and a member of the committee suggested that as the product had a brilliant luster, one syllable should denote brilliancy, and also suggested that that syllable be ray, and we finally concluded to tack on to it, and thus the word rayon was born. There was no connection with the French word rayon, and we felt at the time there would not be much confusion over the two words on account of the different pronunciation, but we now know that there would already have been a world-wide adoption of the term rayon had it not conflicted with the French word." French rayon (pronounced reh-YONN) signifies "ray" or "beam." The member of the committee chiefly responsible for the arbitrary coinage of rayon is believed to have been Charles Edward Lord (1865-1942), president of the Aberfoyle Manufacturing Company at Chester, Pennsylvania, and pioneer weaver [page 84] of artificial silk. The National Retail Dry Goods Association officially adopted the new word May 23, 1924, and other interested organic tions soon followed suit. It was later adopted by the Federal Trade,, Commission, the Department of Commerce, the Department of A culture and other federal agencies. The committee probably was not aware of the fact that Rayon had long been the name of an Opata Indian village in Sonora, Mexico.