Today in Technology History

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October 24

The most famous use of the man-made fiber nylon is as a material for women's stockings. In fact, since its introduction, that fiber has become so closely associated with women's hosiery that the term "nylon" is nowadays used as a shorthand word for stockings.

The DuPont company patented nylon in 1937 and announced its existence in a 1938 press release that described the material as being as "strong as steel, as fine as the spider's web, yet more elastic than the common natural fibers and possessing a beautiful luster." In a world not yet saturated with synthetic materials, those claims ignited considerable interest in nylon products.

The first nylon stockings sold to the public went on sale on October 24, 1939. Six retail stores in Wilmington, Delaware -- home of the DuPont company -- participated in a marketing experiment, selling the new stockings several months before they were available anywhere else. Within a few hours, the stores' supplies of nylon stockings were sold out -- even though they were supposed to last through the end of the year. Here is how a newspaper article described the frenzy:

First Offering of Nylon Hosiery Sold Out; Out-of-Town Buyers Swamp Wilmington

... Customers were lined three deep at the counters most of the day. Many of them were men and many were from out-of-town, although the sale was limited to three pairs per customer and supposedly to Delaware residents. ... Du Pont Company officials estimated that 4,000 pairs were sold at six stores, all of which were better quality women's apparel shops. This number was several times the normal daily sale of silk stockings for these stores.

When nylon stockings went on sale across the entire U.S. the next year, the demand was just as high thanks to the cost and durability of the new stockings -- although many women were surprised to discover that even stockings made from a material as "strong as steel" could still run like conventional silk stockings.

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