This will probably be the shortest article so far in the history of — series. Polyester fabric is so new in comparison to the natural fibers that we have been using for millennia. Regardless, polyester has made a massive impact on the modern textile industry and is well worth discussing. So let's get up to date on The History Of Polyester
What Is Polyester?
Polyester is a category of a certain type of plastic formed from a chemical reaction between an acid and an alcohol. The polyester we use in fabrics most commonly refers to polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE).
PET is a thermoplastic, which means that it melts and is malleable at a certain temperature (about 250c or 480f) and solidifies when it cools. It is this property that makes thermoplastics so versatile in their usage.
More than 60% of the production of PET is for synthetic fibers, with the rest mostly taken up with bottle production. Polyester is the fourth most produced polymer in the world (a polymer simply is a large molecule composed of many repeating parts, from Greek; poly-‘many', mer-‘parts').
What Is Polyester Used For
Polyester, as we all know, is often used for clothing, nowadays it's more common to find blended cotton and polyester than full polyester. The main reason for this is the lack of breathability in pure polyester, and frankly few people like the look now. Blended fabrics also retain many of the benefits of polyester; being more resistant to wrinkling, having more stretch, and sometimes more resistant to wear.
Outside of fashion, polyester is used for a great variety of products; the most common being plastic bottles and containers. Some others include sailcloth, canoes, tarpaulin, LCDs, insulating tapes, various items for film, ropes, cord, and more. Polyester is also commonly used as a finish to high-quality wood products like pianos, guitars, and vehicle interiors (which is then polished to a glossy, durable finish).
The Short History Of Polyester Fabric
In 1926, Wallace Carothers, the inventor of nylon, first discovered that alcohol and carboxyl acids could be mixed to create synthetic fibers. This resulted in the first early polyester polymers, however, they proved to be unstable and lost shape when submerged in hot water. The project was then shelved in favor of developing nylon.
Thirteen years later, in 1939, John Winfield and James Dickson continued Carother’s work. By 1941 they patented PET which would become the basis for synthetic fiber products. In the same year with the help of W.K. Birtwhistle and C.G. Ritchie, they created the first polyester fiber, Terylene.
By 1946, American conglomerate DuPont purchased all of the legal rights to the material. In 1950, they produced the polyester fiber – Dacron, and in 1952 – Mylar. In 1951 polyester was first introduced to the public, it was sold as a ‘miracle fabric' that could be pulled, worn, and washed without wrinkling or signs of wear.
By 1958 polyester was experiencing fervent popularity, people did seem to like the low-maintenance benefit. Textile mills exploded around the country as many were eager to reap the benefits of producing this inexpensive yet durable fiber. This popularity would continue through the early '60s.
As 1970 came and went, polyester was met with a decline in the fashion world. It developed a bad reputation as a cheap fabric that was uncomfortable to wear (especially in the heat). Both high and low fashion made a swift return to natural fibers like wool, linen, and cotton (and polyester blends).
Today full polyester clothing mostly retains its ill reputation. But cotton-polyester and wool-polyester blends are quite common. Now they take more of an assisting role to the natural fibers, giving them extra durability among its other benefits, for little cost.
What Is The Future Of Polyester Fabric
Polyester is not going anywhere. There are simply too many cost-effective benefits it can bring to clothing, and with our modern blending techniques, they can look very good.
Will we see a return to full polyester outfits? I strongly doubt that. Polyester has found a solid space in the fabrics industry, and I don't think much change is likely, barring some new technology that could make a better alternative.
I hope you enjoyed this History Of Polyester, let me know what you think in the comments below. And feel free to share any requests as well.
If these sorts of history articles interest you, please check out the last history article: The History Of Linen
As well as A Super Quick History of Cotton.