Inventing the Future of Plastics

Innovative Plastics and Polymers, From Neoprene to Biopolymers

The history of innovative plastics and the history of DuPont are closely tied. DuPont materials scientists have been in at the start — from the invention of Neoprene and Nylon, to the development of tougher, stronger materials for everything from automobiles to smartphones, to next-generation biopolymers.

Neoprene: Taking Organic Chemistry in New Directions

In April 1930, DuPont was already at the forefront of organic chemistry research when Dr. Wallace Carothers and his team synthesized the very first polyester super polymer, the forerunner of nylon. The compound would eventually be marketed as Neoprene. DuPont then worked with manufacturers to figure out practical applications for this new material, establishing a focus on collaboration that continues today with DuPont materials.

Nylon: Plastic’s Most Successful Product

On the heels of Neoprene, the next big discovery was nylon, again by Dr. Carothers and his research team. Nylon was the very first synthetic fiber, and one of the most successful products ever created. Commercial production began in 1939, and from almost the moment it entered the market, “nylon” become synonymous with “stockings.” Nylon fiber was soon developed for numerous applications, from durable fabrics to the belting in automobile tires. This also marked the beginning of nylon as an engineering product designed as a replacement for metal and rubber.

Zytel®: Made to Replace Metal

DuPont engineers quickly realized that innovative plastics could be made strong enough to replace metal – providing production, cost, and in some cases, performance improvements. Whenever automotive engineers were not very familiar with plastics, they continued to use metals wherever possible.  When nylon was used, it was sporadic, in a model here and a model there. Under the hood, high temperatures and harsh chemicals made adoption of nylon infrequent.

Then came the development of DuPont™ Zytel® nylon resin, a high-  performance mineral- and glass-reinforced version of the PA 66 nylon that greatly expanded nylon’s applications. This performance enhancement led to underhood innovations, such as engine cooling flex fans; transmission thrust washers and spring guides; and air cleaner support brackets.  Other applications included throttle control cable end fittings, lever retainers and “umbrellas;” downshift cables and hood release cable j