Significance of Synthetic Textile Industry

The Significance of the Growing Synthetic Textile Industry
Robert L. Huffines, Jr.
President, Burlington Mills Corporation, NY
Talk made before the Lowell Textile Institute in December, 1948

“In the brief span of thirty-five years, the synthetic industry is the one in the textile field that has shown the greatest expansion; one which has produced the most significant new developments, and one which has risen to a dominant position in the textile world –outweighing all other textile fibers used in America put together, except for cotton.  It is hard for me to imagine our everyday life without synthetics for they are literally woven into every phase of it from all types of apparel and household products to automotive upholstery and tires.” 

First, a few figures, which to me portray the rapid growth of the synthetics industry in this country: This past year marked a significant milestone in the synthetic yarn industry, for production reached one billion pounds – which is a lot of fiber.  Production in 1928 was 100,000,000 pounds; in 1936 the figure was 300,000,000 pounds, and in 1942 it hit 700,000,000 pounds.  Now the United States’ output has passed the billion mark, and is continuing to grow.  While this rapidly expanding production has been primarily in the rayon field, consumption of synthetic fibers other than rayon has also been on the rise for the past several years.   Department of Agriculture figures show the output rise in this category in 1940 was 4,471,000 pounds; in 1944 it was 47,368,000 pounds, and in 1946 it was 53,329,000 pounds, with the same increasing trend occurring in 1947 and this year.  The trend here, as with rayon, is definitely toward greater volume.”

In 1937 synthetics, according to Government statistics, represented 9 per cent of the total broad woven goods output in this country.  In 1941, it was 13 per cent.  And in 1947, it was 16 per cent, with a further increase certain this year.  The production of rayon, nylon, and related synthetic fabrics in the January-March quarterly period this year reached a new record rate of 560,000,000 yards, thereby exceeding first quarter output of 1947 by 15 per cent, and the average quarter in 1939 by over 50 percent.  Surely, these two different sets of figures, one on yarn and the other on fabric output, are sufficient evidence of the position that synthetics are rapidly assuming in the textile world.”

What are some of the factors that have contributed to the growth of synthetics?  There are many, but I just want to mention three which to my mind have aided materially to the rise to prominence of synthetics in our textile world of today.”

First, is controllability of product.  Synthetics, being man-made, can be controlled and adapted to virtually any specific end-uses for which they are selected.  The fiber can be controlled; the resulting fabric can be controlled.  When rayon was first introduced into this market a little more than thirty-five years ago, its quality was not too good.  Most of it was heavier denier yarns which generally were not suitable for apparel uses.  By continuing research and experiment, and because of the chemists’ ability to control the raw materials which made up the yarn, improved quality resulted and finer denier yarns were produced which established rayon in the apparel and household fields.  It is this controllability of fiber and yarn that have aided materially the synthetic industry in producing many new, interesting and different developments in the textile field.”

Second is stability of price. One of the prime reasons for the growth of synthetics industry has been the relative stability of price of the basic fiber and yarn.  This price point is important.  The over-all trend of rayon prices, as with the natural fiber prices, from 1920 to 1932, was downward.  Beginning in 1933 and continuing generally through 1941, the prices of our natural fibers moved upward, while rayon staple and filament rayon prices were continuing their downward trend.  From 1938 to 1941, both staple and filament prices remained in a definitely even staple keel.  Rayon prices during the war, as with wool, were on a control basis and thus remained at 1941 levels. Raw cotton, being uncontrolled, moved up.  Since the termination of price ceilings near the end of 1946, rayon yarn prices, due to increased labor and raw materials costs, have been raised three times.  But even with these three general increases, the current price of filament yarn is below the 1931 level, while staple fiber is under the 1933 level.”

Huffines continued and cited reasons why synthetics prices were stable.

Third, Synthetics keep introducing new products.  Even now DuPont is introducing a new fiber “Orlon”, and Union Carbide is introducing “Vinyon N”.

Finally he pointed out that the synthetic industry was the largest single employer of manpower in the United States.  How far would it go?  It was anyone’s guess.

Huffines was correct.  DuPont introduced Dacron polyester in 1953 and the synthetic industry raced ahead.

Source:  Robert L. Huffines, Jr., “The Significance of the Growing Synthetic Textile Industry,” American Dyestuff Reporter, January 10, 1949, page 36-7.