"Hosiery Woes"

Business Week, February 7, 1942.

Industry hears that nylon supply will be commandeered by WPB, can 't figure out what's to be done about yarn.

"We could figure a way to knit them of grass one day, and the next day there would be a priority on grass." Thus spoke an embittered manufacturer of women's hosiery early this week.

Distressing Report. In the past six months the hosiery industry, particularly that part of it which produces women's full-fashioned stockings, has been singularly ill-starred. Last week it was forced to swallow the nastiest pill yet. Word seeped out of Washington that the War Production Board may shortly commandeer the entire production of du Pont's nylon for parachutes, powder bags, and other military uses. When trade between the U.S. and Japan came to a complete stop last August, approximately three-fourth's of this country's total output of women's full-fashioned hosiery was of silk. Bolstered by OPM action allocating it special supplies of rayon (BW - Aug.9 '41, p24), the industry prepared to make up the silk deficiency with rayon and cotton -- both until then negligible factors in full-fashioned production.

Step up in Output. Nylon, the only silk substitute with full acceptance from both the industry and consumers, already accounted for 20% of full-fashioned output. Many manufacturers hoped they would have to use rayon and cotton only as a stopgap until nylon supplies could be stepped up. The original nylon plant at Seaford, Del., has an annual production of 8,000,000 lb. Completion of a new plant in Martinsville, W. Va., sometime next summer should double this. In November, du Pont announced plans for increasing capacity at Seaford 50%. Thus the hosiery industry has had an annual nylon production of 20,000,000 lb. in view with the expectation (on the basis of past experience) of getting around 80% of it.

Less for Hosiery. The industry had not been totally unprepared for the gloomy report that came out of Washington last week, however. Early last month, du Pont slashed deliveries to civilian customers 20% under pressure of war orders. For some time now, hosiery manufacturers have had difficulty in getting delivery on nylon yarn in the heavier, longer-wearing deniers (60's and 40's) for "service-weight" stockings. These deniers are earmarked for the Army and Navy. So far, Washington has taken no official action on nylon, but WPB admits that it will move soon. Whether WPB will commandeer the entire production or leave a small percentage for hosiery makers depends on what priority du Pont can get for phenol, used in making nylon intermediates -- and in numberless war industries. There is a report that du Pont is experimenting with benzol on which the supply situation is not so tight.

No Relief in Sight. Hosiery makers say that even if they get as much as 18% of viscose and cuprammonium output, it will barely make up for the loss of silk, certainly won't compensate them for nylon. Nor is there anything bright about the supply situation on cotton, last resort of the industry. Fine lisles (made from long staple cotton) and even 60- and 80-count cottons are now almost as difficult to obtain as nylon and rayon. Thus the full-fashioned industry, which has reduced operations by some 20% in the past five months, is prepared for still further curtailment, probably coupled with rationing right down the line.

See an image of the original article.

Copyright © 1998 The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.

Comments and questions to the Lemelson Center:lemcen@si.edu

Last Revision: 6/5/98