Transforming dissolving pulp to rayon since its discovery hasn’t been an overnight process. Many key figures have been instrumental in the “invention” of rayon over the past 150 years.
This article takes an in-depth look at some of the crucial innovators for this fabric.
The fact that nitrocellulose is soluble in organic solvents such as ether and acetone, made it possible for Georges Audemars to develop the first “artificial silk” around 1855, but his method was impractical for commercial use. Commercial production started in 1891, but the result was flammable, and more expensive than acetate or cuprammonium rayon. Because of this, production was stopped before World War I.
Nathan Rosenstein invented the spunize process by which he turned rayon from a hard fiber to a fabric. This allowed rayon to become a popular raw material in textiles.
Paul Schützenberger discovered that cellulose could react with acetic anhydride to form cellulose acetate. However, the acetate was only soluble in chloroform making the method expensive but the discovery later on that hydrolyzed cellulose acetate is soluble in more polar solvents, like acetone, made production of cellulose acetate fibers cheap and efficient.
German chemist Eduard Schweizer discovered that tetraaminecopper dihydroxide could dissolve cellulose. Production of rayon for textiles started in 1899 in the Vereinigte Glanzstofffabriken AG in Oberbruch.
Finally, in 1894, English chemist Charles Frederick Cross, and his collaborators Edward John Bevan, and Clayton Beadle patented their artificial silk, which they named “viscose”, because the reaction product of carbon disulfide and cellulose in basic conditions gave a highly viscous solution of xanthate.
The first commercial viscose rayon was produced by the UK company Courtaulds Fibers in 1905. Avtex Fibers Incorporated began selling their formulation in the United States in 1910. The name “rayon” was adopted in 1924, with “viscose” being used for the viscous organic liquid used to make both rayon and cellophane. In Europe, though, the fabric itself became known as “viscose,” which has been ruled an acceptable alternative term for rayon by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The method is able to use wood (cellulose and lignin) as a source of cellulose while the other methods need lignin-free cellulose as starting material. This makes it cheaper and therefore it was used on a larger scale than the other methods.
The physical properties of rayon were unchanged until the development of high-tenacity rayon in the 1940s. Further research and development led to the creation of high-wet-modulus rayon (HWM rayon) in the 1950s.