Updated: Dec 20, 2022
#11 Science in History
19 December 1910
American Viscose, a division of Courtaulds, starts commercial production of Rayon in the United States
Video by Maxim Bilovitskiy
Although commercial production had begun in France, it was on this day in 1910 that the first commercial production of artificial silk in America began at Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. The plant was designed to produce rayon from cellulose, a material derived from wood pulp. The process involves dissolving the cellulose in a mixture of chemicals and then extruding the solution through a spinneret to form filaments. The filaments are then stretched and dried to form a continuous thread. The plant could produce up to 10,000 pounds of the material per day and could be used as the starting point for other polymers, such as acetate.
It was not until 1924 that the semi-synthetic fibre became known as rayon (also called viscose) a name derived from the French word "rayonne", which means "made from fibres.". The material had been invented in 1855 when French chemist Hilaire de Chardonnet discovered a way to make a cellulose-based fibre from wood pulp.
The fabric became popular because it was cheaper than silk but had a similar look and feel. It was also more durable and easier to care for than silk. By the 1930s, rayon was the most popular synthetic fabric in America, used to make a variety of products, including clothing, bedding, and carpets.