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80 years of Perlon

A miraculous fibre

„Paul Schlack bears the blame of the fug of the fifties and sixties," wrote Die Zeit about the eminent chemist. What had Schlack done? Well, he was the inventor of Perlon. Eighty years ago, on January 29,1938, Schlack discovered the polymerizability of caprolactam and developed a polyamide fibre from it.

Three years earlier, on 28 February 1935, the American Wallace Hume Carothers (1896-1937) had created the first fully synthetic fibre. Carother, who was the first industrial chemist to be elected to the US Academy of Sciences, and his team had previously developed neoprene and held several patents in this field (e. g. pdf-Datei US 2071253). Its new plastic fibre, called polyhexamethylene adipinamide, was also pdf-Datei patented and launched by the du Pont Group under the trade name Nylon.

Paul Schlack (1897-1987) from Stuttgart worked as head of a research department incorporated in I. G. Farbenindustrie AG, the largest chemical company in the world at the time. Using Caroter's publications, he sought an alternative route to a synthetic fibre with comparable characteristics without infringing the nylon patent. The starting material he chose was the polymer caprolactam, which Carothers had rejected as unsuitable and which was easier to extract. Schlack was successful and developed polycaprolactam (polyamide 6, PA6). On June 11,1938, he applied for a patent ( pdf-Datei DE 748253 (1,05 MB)) for his plastic fibre, which was to be marketed under the Perlon trademark.

"Nazi-Nylon" and post-war exchange object

Women´s stockings

Perlon and Nylon have very similar quality: both fibres are light, elastic and resistant. The fibres are still used today for toothbrushes, ropes, belts, guitar strings, technical fabrics, nets and of course for clothing.

IG Farben - a company that played a decisive role in the National Socialist economic system and exploited forced laborers on a large scale during the war - initially used the fiber only for military purposes, i. e. for the production of parachutes, aircraft tyres and cleaning brushes for weapons. After the war, the company was split up and dissolved.

Only in the post-war period did the "civilian" use of Perlon really begin. In the USA, too, Nylon was initially used primarily for military purposes. But when Nylon stockings first appeared on the US market in 1940, millions of them sold within a few days. Fine women's stockings became a kind of substitute currency and much sought-after commodity after the war in West Germany, similar to cigarettes. Later, Perlon clothing became a symbol of the “Wirtschaftswunder” (economic miracle). In the GDR, under the brand name "Dederon" (register number DD626258), a synthetic fibre was also used on the market and in the clothing industry.

Unfortunately, however, the plastic fibre now had the unpleasant characteristic of developing odours due to a lack of breathability in contact with the skin. Therefore, decades later Die Zeit made Paul Schlack symbolically responsible for the proverbial "fug of the fifties and sixties". Schlack, who had become head of fibre research at Hoechst in 1955 and professor of textile chemistry in Stuttgart in 1961 and had applied for more than 300 patents in the course of his life, would probably have laughed heartily.

You can look up the patents by Paul Schlack, Wallace Carothers and others in the DPMA databases:

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Last updated: 25/05/18 

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