Inventions and Product Development - Artificial Silk

Scope and Content

Set of photographs of some early specimens of artificial silk made by Sir Joseph Swan and his wife Hannah Swan.

In 1883, Swan patented a synthetic material he had invented while developing the carbon filament; his wife and daughter crocheted swaths of this "artificial silk," which he exhibited in 1885. Originally developed for carbonization and use as filaments, the cotton was nitrated to produce nitrocellulose, a volatile substance that Swan extruded in acetic acid through a grid of small holes to form thin threads that were then treated with a coagulating fluid to transform them into inert cellulose. When these filaments proved unsuccessful in his incandescent bulbs, he abandoned the fibre and sold the patent rights to Courtaulds, which later developed it into rayon, one of the first synthetic fibres.

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