Believe it or not, neoprene was invented a little under a century ago. Beginning in the 1930s, scientists sought the creation of a material that possessed all of natural rubber’s inherent traits, but to greater degrees. The discovery of neoprene enabled there to be markets for neoprene sheets, a neoprene liner, a neoprene seal, a neoprene gasket, and other neoprene products. Later on, scientists invented a variant of neoprene—the neoprene foam sheet. In sum, the neoprene rubber sheet (also known as a chloroprene rubber sheet) is the consequence of a global, collective effort—a combination of genius, effort, and a little bit of luck. Fast forward to today, and you will see that neoprene is all around us. You may have a neoprene pad under the table you are using. Neoprene bumpers likely protect your car from potential damage. You might have a sheet of black neoprene under your computer. Even the soles of your shoes might be made of a neoprene blend! Neoprene’s ubiquity in modern life cannot be overstated. To get a better understanding of the history of neoprene, here is a timeline documenting the transformation of our understanding of neoprene rubber.
The History of Neoprene (1860-1940):
1860 – The Discovery of Isoprene Gerville Williams discovered that isoprene is the main building block in rubber. Scientists then tried to recreate this polymer. Later, they discovered that they needed to recreate the behavior of the polymer and not necessarily the polymer itself.
1879 – The First Synthetic Elastomer The first sign of synthetic-rubber-making appeared. Gustave Bouchardat, a French chemist, created one of the first forms of synthetic elastomers through the manipulation of isoprene.
1925 – Where Was Neoprene Invented? Elmer K. Bolton, a researcher at DuPont laboratories in America, attended a meeting held by the American Chemical Society. A chemistry professor at University of Notre Dame, Father Julius A. Nieuwland, lectured about his research in and experimentation with acetylene. This information eventually led Bolton to discover the importance of acetylene in the neoprene structure. With Bolton initiating the research, DuPont began to look for ways to make synthetic rubber.
1930 – When Was Neoprene Invented? Neoprene was invented in 1930. Neoprene was created by a group of American scientists in DuPont. This is a landmark in the history of neoprene, and it unlocked the possibility of making things such as neoprene rolls, neoprene padding, and a neoprene stripping.
1931 – What Was the Original Name of Neoprene? Neoprene was marketed by DuPont laboratories as “DuPrene.” But, as you will see, this name was ultimately changed.
1934 – A New Way of Making Neoprene Emulsion polymerization became the new process for manufacturing neoprene. These chemical reactions take place within a hydrocarbon solvent, and this process is best used for polymers that are commercially produced in the form of a solution—such as adhesives or coatings.
1937 – Why Is It Called Neoprene? As was foreshadowed, DuPont discontinued the trade-name “DuPrene” and began to use “neoprene.” DuPont made this change to signify to consumers that the product was based on a specific ingredient—trying to differentiate it from other elastomers. Worth noting, “chloroprene (CR)” was another name commonly used instead of neoprene.
1938 – Who Invented Neoprene Foam?Chloroprene foam was accidentally discovered by Otto Bayer, allowing products such as a neoprene foam sheet and other objects made of a neoprene blend to be available today. This discovery proves that the rubber could be manufactured in different ways and not just as solid neoprene sheeting. Nowadays, there are many types of neoprene sponge, including closed-cell neoprene foam and open-cell neoprene foam.
1940 – The Demand for Neoprene Skyrockets The demand for neoprene doubles because of its usefulness in military machinery and technology while natural rubber shortages became prevalent. Synthetic rubbers, including chloroprene, were largely the only available elastomers to nations who were not allied with Japan. During the war, Japan occupied the top natural rubber producing countries, preventing the product’s export.
This timeline documenting the history of neoprene highlights the important landmarks that led to the discovery of and improvements in neoprene. In this article, we answered some of the most important questions in relationship to the history of neoprene. Where was neoprene invented? When was neoprene invented? What was the original name of neoprene? Why is it called neoprene? Who invented neoprene foam? These questions are inseparable from a holistic discussion about neoprene sheets, and they guide our thinking as scientists continue to make improvements upon neoprene material. Given DuPont’s central role in neoprene’s development, a neoprene foam sheet or even a simple chloroprene rubber sheet would likely not exist if not for the dedication and research of scientists at DuPont. Neoprene sheets are the result of a long line of historical events—amalgamating to create a beloved, widely-used product. The number of advancements in rubber technology over the last century is incalculable. Time and time again, bold ideas, hard work, and good spirit bring forth discoveries that permanently alter history in both obvious and subtle ways. The history of neoprene is just one node in the vast network of interconnected stories—all of which, together, give us deeper insight into the power of human ingenuity: turning ideas into action.