Today PTFE is one of the most widely used materials in the world. So, it may come as a surprise to learn that it was discovered entirely by accident!
In April of 1938, Dr. Roy Plunkett and his assistant Jack Rebok were working as chemists at DuPont’s Chemors Jackson Labritory in New Jersey. On the night of the 6th, they stored the gas they were experimenting on (tetrafluoroethylene) in small cylinders where they were then frozen and compressed.
When the men returned the next day, they discovered that the gas they stored was gone. When they released the nozzle of the cylinders, no gas was released. Thinking this odd, they split the cylinders open to find the gas had turned into a solid, white and waxy material.
This material would later become known as PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) or better known by it’s brand name Teflon.
Dr. Plunkett continued research on this strange new material, and found that it was not only one of the slipperiest materials known, but that it also had several other incredible properties such as:
- Chemically Stable
- Extremely High Melting Point
In 1941, Kinetic Chemicals Inc, a company founded by DuPont and General Motors, patented the new fluorinated plastic. In 1945 the name Teflon was trademarked. By 1948, Kinetic Chemicals was making over two-million pounds of the Teflon brand PTFE.
It wasn’t until 1954, when French-woman Collette Grégoire, wife of engineer Marc Grégoire, asked him to try the material he had been using on fishing tackle on her cooking pans. He subsequently created the first non-stick pans under the brand name Tefal (which is an amalgamation of “Tef” from “Teflon” and “al” from aluminum). The first PTFE-coated pan was introduced in the US in 1961 as “the Happy Pan”. Since then, non-stick cookware has been a staple in kitchens around the world.
Aside from cookware, PTFE has been used in a wide variety of applications, from food processing to the space industry. In fact, PTFE was used in the initial moon landing in 1969, as it was the only plastic that could withstand the extreme atmosphere of space.
Since then, PTFE has become a staple in our everyday lives and will continue to be so for many more years to come.
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