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discoveries that improve our daily lives.
ARS scientists developed THPC, a compound that prevents cotton fabrics from
igniting when held in a flame.
was in trouble. With the cessation of World War II, cotton markets were being
usurped by synthetics. The marketing war's opening round was the advent of
rayon strong enough for use in tire cords. Soon tire makers began switching
from cotton to its lower priced competitor, dispossessing growers of an annual
market for 1 million bales of cotton.
Another inroad into cotton markets followed
the introduction of men's shirts made of synthetic fibers that needed little or
no ironing. Concurrently, nylon was laying siege to markets for women's
garments and for many household items that cotton had traditionally
ARS chemists and engineers at the Southern
Regional Research Center in New Orleans, along with colleagues in industry,
launched a broad-based research campaign to close the gap. Before long,
progress in research began to bolster cotton's competitive position.
A series of basic discoveries involving
resins resulted in cotton fabrics that behaved like synthetics when washed and
hung to dry, yet retained such desirable qualities as comfort and resistance to
soiling. Work in laboratories was further accelerated at about this time when
major shirt makers raised their research budgets on learning that many people
considered synthetic shirts to be wanting in comfort.
From this effort of the 1950's came the
first wash-and-wear cotton shirts that required only touch-up ironing. Next
came shirts, pants, and other clothing made from a new blend of 35 percent
cotton with 65 percent synthetics. These garments had permanent creases and,
after washing and either tumble- or drip-drying, required no ironing.
Permanently creased, wrinkle-resistant, easy-care cotton fabric for clothing
came from ARS research.
But the New
Orleans scientists refused to settle for shirts, underwear, and sportswear
limited to only 35 percent cotton. Contending that garments of all cotton were
more durable than those made from the blend, they stepped up their efforts.
They succeeded. Since 1965 consumers have been able to buy all-cotton shirts
that are durable yet look newly pressed after repeated launderings and
The key to making cotton
wash-and-wearor durable press, as it is now calledis to treat it
with a chemical solution which reacts with the long molecules that compose
cotton fiber. The treatment "crosslinks" or ties the molecules
together so that the fabric will dry smooth after laundering. Today
durable-press textiles are providing an annual market for an estimated 2.5
million bales of cotton that otherwise would not be sold.
But durable-press cottons account for only a
part of the New Orleans lab's total textile research program. Over the years
researchers there have created a succession of processes and products. These
include a host of new finishing and crosslinking agents to make fabrics last
longer and resist wrinkling, soiling, and damage by bleaches; weather-resistant
canvases for such varied products as tents, tarpaulins, and beach umbrellas;
and flame-retardant fabrics for clothing for fire fighters and foundry workers,
bed linens for hospitals and institutions, and linings for high-pressure
chambers for nursing blue babies after surgery.
All these and many other research
achievements have helped win markets for cotton. To the general public,
however, the towering triumph in textile research undoubtedly is durable-press
cotton. It is liberating the masses from countless hours of drudgery at the