The History of Nylon Stockings In 1930, Wallace Carothers, Julian Hill, and other researchers for the DuPont Company studied chains of molecules called polymers, in an attempt to find a substitute for silk. Pulling a heated rod from a beaker containing carbon- and alcohol-based molecules, they found the mixture stretched and, at room temperature, had a silky texture. This work culminated in the production of nylon marking the beginning of a new era in synthetic fibers.
First Nylon PlantDuPont built the first full-scale nylon plant in Seaford, Delaware, and began commercial production in late 1939. In fact, the first test sale to DuPont employees’ wives took place at the company’s experimental station. Not long before the 4,000 pairs of stockings sold out—in only three hours!— DuPont had had women modeling nylon hosiery at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, touting nylon as a synthetic fabric made of “carbon, water and air.” The first year on the market, DuPont sold 64 million pairs of stockings. That same year, nylon appeared in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, where it was used to create the tornado that carried Dorothy to the Emerald City.
In 1942, nylon went to war in the form of parachutes and tents. Nylon stockings were the favorite gift of American soldiers to impress British women. Nylon stockings were scarce in America until the end of World War II, but then returned with a vengeance. Shoppers crowded stores, and one San Francisco store was forced to halt stocking sales when it was mobbed by 10,000 anxious shoppers. Today, nylon is still used in all types of apparel and is the second most used synthetic fiber.
The nylon stocking is 75 years old
Women making hosiery at Minnesac Mills, Philadelphia. (Photo by Lewis Hine, 1936-37.)
This is the first pair of experimental nylon stockings made by Union Hosiery Company for DuPont in 1937. The leg of the stocking is nylon, the upper welt, toe and heel are silk, and cotton is used in the seam.
The nylon section of the stocking would not take the silk dye, and dyed to black instead of brown. (National Museum of American History)
Factory workers in the UK Hertfordshire personally tested products. Technologist Squirting Stockings on the water, make sure: it does not harm the moisture.UK, 1938. Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis
The first experimental sale of nylon stockings, Wilmington, Delaware, 25th October 1939
First display of nylon stockings, DuPont exhibit, Golden Gate Exposition, 1939
A 35-foot-high leg display advertising nylon in Los Angeles, California. The leg
was modeled by movie star Marie Wilson, shown suspended from the crane.
It wasn’t until May 1940 that nylon stockin gs became available in stores. On sale for about $1.15 a pa
ir - that’s about $20 in today’s money - the nylon stockings were more expensive than their silk alternatives, but were more resilient and lasted longer. Hundreds of thousands of brown nylons sold out almost immediately, and DuPont sold 64m pairs that year. DuPont sold $9m worth of nylon yarn in 1940 and $25m the following year.
Over 10,000 women showed up for this first post-war nylons sale in San Francisco, May 15, 1940. Photo from the DuPont archives.
In 1940 in New York City in just one day American sales snapped five million pairs of nylon stockings.New York City, Fifth Avenue. Photo: Bettmann / Corbis
Women who couldn’t get nylon stockings on the black market drew seams on the back of their legs so it would look like they were wearing stockings. Cosmetic companies also started selling “paint-on stockings”. 1941,
Applying leg make-up. Drawing a straight even line down the back of the leg was the
most difficult part. 1940. Photo: Hulton- Deutsch Collection / Corbis
A fabulous example of the cosmetic stocking craft (AP&EOR, 1942).
Drawing in the seam-line on “Makeup” stockings with a device made from a scr ew
driver handle, bicycle leg clip, and an eyebrow pencil, 1942. Bettman/Corbis
Uncle sam needs your stockings ! 1941, Collection box for silk and nylon stockings in an American department store during the war. The donor is
wearing socks, another alternative to stockings.
When the US entered the Second World War in 1941, manufacturing of nylon stockings stopped so nylon could be
used to make parachutes, ropes, tents and other materials for the war effort.
The worn out nylon stockings in this barrel full of salvaged stockings will be reprocessed and made
into parachutes for army fliers, tow ropes for gilder planes and other war material. 1942
New York, 1942. Photo: Charles Kenneth
Lucas / AP
Nylon stockings were collected at MATC for the war effort, later to be used to make parachutes. 1942
Betty Grable auctioning her stockings at a World War II bond rally, 1943
1943: Women line up while waiting for a vendor to dispense free nylons from a van, during World War II. The line stretches down to the street corner where a drug store stands. (Photo by American Stock/Getty Images)
The return of nylon stockings to the high street in 1945, when rations were eased after the war, led to queues that ran out the doors and down the block -- leading to “nylon riots” in some places. Some 40,000 women lined up outside a store in Pittsburgh that had 13,000 stockings, while a shop in San Francisco had to stop selling stockings after it was mobbed by 10,000
people. Demand stayed so high throughout the 1940s that
DuPont demanded payment in advance for all purchases, even from the most reputable of accounts. Photo:Lines formed when nylons were finally available again in autumn 1945 after the end of World War II. (German Hosiery Museum)
First postwar nylon sale in San Francisco was so mobbed that newspapers called it the “Nylon Riots,” 1945-1946
Shoppers crowd the stockings counter of a department store in 1947.
After World War II women sighed with relief: their favorite nylon back on the shelves! Photo: Bettmann / Corbis
February 1946: A bundle of completed nylon stockings at the Ballite Hosiery Mills, St Albans. (Photo by George Konig/Keystone Features/Getty Images)
Inspection of nylon hosiery
February 1946: Utility nylon stockings being knitted on a production line at the Ballite Hosiery Mills, St Albans. (Photo by George Konig/Keystone Features/Getty Images)
New machines for sale nylon stockings - it's brilliant, decided ladies. Atlantic City, 1949. Photo:
Bettmann / Corbis
4th December 1949: Nylon stockings drying on heated formers at a factory in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
December 1949: Shaping or 'preboarding' nylon stockings on wooden formers during manufacture. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Brigitte Bardot and Tilda Tamar demonstrate stockings in a shop window in Paris. 1954. Photo: AFP
September 1955: the technology
at work. Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis
8th November 1955: A display of nylon stockings from St Michael, the brand name of Marks and Spencers. Original Publication: Picture Post - 8437 - Scientific Shopping - unpub. (Photo by Charles Hewitt/Picture Post/Getty Images)
The same fashion trend that had turned s tockings into such a roaring success in the first place -- rising hemlines -- was eventually their undoing. As more women started to wear miniskirts, they wanted a nylon underwear that would cover their whole leg. Tights became commercially available in 1959, and by 1970 sales of pantyhose in the US exceeded those of stockings.