Artificial Silk

My post of 26/8/18 said:

“Courtauld’s pioneered the production of man made textiles including rayon, or artificial silk.”

Janet Dunbar, in A Prospect of Richmond (1966), provides earlier detail:

“Kew has had its modest share of inventors and inventions. One of the most interesting is the discovery of rayon, which might be said to have been invented at Kew. Two chemists who had a laboratory there, Charles Frederick Cross and Edward Bevan, did some work which led, in 1892, to the discovery of viscose. Near their laboratory at South Avenue, Kew, Charles Henry Stearn, an expert on vacuums, ran an electric lamp factory; he had been in partnership with Joseph Swan, the inventor of the electric lamp.

Stearn was always experimenting, looking for new materials from which to make filaments. It is probable that Cross suggested viscose to him for this purpose, and Stearn and his assistants began fresh experiments with the newly discovered substance. For filaments, viscose had to be spun into fine threads by being forced through small jets and then hardened. Stearn did not find the results particularly successful for filaments, but he succeeded in making the viscose threads into artificial silk.

This opened up great possibilities, and Stearn, Cross and Frederick Topham, who had been working with them, formed a syndicate and set up production of artificial silk next to the lamp factory. They produced yarns with increasing success, and were eventually bought up by Samuel Courtauld in 1904.”.

Topham’s obituary in The Journal of the Textile Institute of May 1936 records that:

“Mr. Topham was a member of the staff of Messrs. Courtauld’s at Coventry with whom he became associated in 1905 and in whose activities his interest was maintained to the end. His great discoveries, made as a result of painstaking research over a long period of years, may be said to have revolutionised the spinning of viscose rayon. A native of Leeds, Mr. Topham spent his early working years as an engineer and, whilst with the former Swan Company, was one of the pioneers of the manufacture of the old type of carbon filament electric lamp. In 1874 he met Mr. C. H. Stearn who was experimenting with viscose. Together they perfected the ageing of viscose which plays so important a part in the production of artificial silk.”

The plastiquarian website gives an illustrated explanation of how viscose rayon was made about the middle of the 20th Century. It notes: “The Topham box was typically moulded from Bakelite and Courtauld’s set up their own moulding department for their manufacture.”.

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