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Fiber History

Fiber HistoryFrom the ages for which there are no records, man has been using clothes. This itself is a proof that fiber is present, now for several thousands of years. Natural Fibers were the first to be used as an obvious choice. Man-made fiber or synthetic fiber industry began only in 1910 with the first commercial production of rayon. This was the result of developments in the field of technology which has not stopped yet. Nylon, Acrylic, Polyester, Spandex, Polyolefin, Microfibers, Lyocell- the inventions are many and they are still going on.

History of Natural Fibers
An explanation about the development of some of the chief natural fibers that are used for apparel garments, home furnishings and for other textile products is essential to understand fibers as a whole.

Flax: Dates back to 5000+ BC. Obtained from flax plant, it is believed to be the oldest natural fiber. Fine quality of linen was used as burial enwraps for the pharaohs of Egypt.

Cotton: CottonDates back to 3000+ BC. Obtained from cotton plant, they are believed to be worn by Egyptians even earlier than 2,500 BC. Revolution in cotton processing was brought by the invention of cotton gin in 1793. Various types of cotton with improved features started to be produced with the growth of power loom in 1884.

Wool: Dates back to 3000 BC and was first used by those living in the Late Stone Age. Since then, more than 40 breeds of sheep and other animals including llama and alpaca have been discovered for producing a wide range of wool variety.

Silk: Dates back to 2600 BC. It is believed to be discovered by a Chinese princess. Obtained from the cocoons of silkworms, sericulture began in about 1725 BC, sponsored by the Chinese emperor's wife. The process of silk manufacturing was a secret for about 3,000 years and the story about two monks who had stolen the seeds of the mulberry tree and silkworm eggs, tells about spreading of the process all over world.

History of Man- made Fibers
RayonAlthough natural fibers were comfortable and all, but they had certain disadvantages too. Cotton and linen wrinkled easily. Silk had to be handled very delicately. Wool shrank and was not moth resistant. With this, efforts began to find out more efficient fibers and then came rayon- the first manufactured fiber -the artificial silk.

Rayon: In the early 1880's, Sir Joseph W. Swan, an English chemist and electrician, invented rayon but it was only in 1910 when its first commercial production was carried on in America. Two basic types of rayon were developed using different chemicals and methods- viscose rayon and cuprammonium rayon.

Acetate: Although in 1893, Arthur D. Little of Boston, invented the cellulosic product, acetate , and developed it as a film, its first commercial textile use in the form of fiber was developed by the Celanese Company in 1924.

Nylon: In 1931, as a result of American chemist Wallace Carothers' research on polymers, nylon was invented. Nylon was synthesized completely from petrochemicals as against the first two synthetic fibers, rayon and acetate, that were derived from plant cellulose. Its first commercial production was in 1939 in the US.

Acrylic: Having wool like appearance, the first commercial production of acrylic was in 1950 in the United States.

Polyester: PolyesterJ. T. Dickson and J. R. Whinfield produced a polyester fiber through condensation polymerization of ethylene glycol with terephthalic acid which became famous as 'wash & wear' and the textile industry saw a revolution as never before. Its first commercial production was in 1953 in the US and was accompanied by the introduction of triacetate in 1954. Polyester, today is the most used fiber in the textile and related industries followed by nylon.

Spandex: The first commercial production of spandex, the stretchable fiber was in 1959 in the US again.

Polyolefin/ Polypropylene: Largely used in automobile industry, these fibers were commercially produced first in the US in 1961. In 1966, polyolefin became the world's first and only Nobel-Prize winning fiber.

Microfibers: The thinnest and the finest fiber, finer even than silk, was first produced in 1989 in the US. Today, microfibers are produced in a variety of synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, etc.

Lyocell: Eco- friendly fiber, obtained from the wood pulp of trees specifically grown for it, were commercially produced first in the US in 1993.

Innovations have not stopped and newer fibers are regularly being developed in the textile industry for greater specialized uses demanded by the hi- tech industrial environments.