A long time ago, in a land not too far away, neoprene was created. The discovery of this synthetic elastomer enabled there to be markets for neoprene sheets, seals, gaskets, liners, and other products. A neoprene—also known as chloroprene—rubber sheet is a material birthed out of innovation and research. From this product came the invention of a neoprene foam sheet, more product uses, and significant change in history. Neoprene is all around us; it may be a component in the seat you are in, the pad under the table you are using, the protective rubber bumpers under your PC, or you may be wearing a rubber shoe! Its ubiquity in modern life is underestimated. To get a better understanding of this historical product, here’s a timeline of what led up to this rubber innovation.
The Timeline of Neoprene 1860-1970
1860 – Gerville Williams discovers that isoprene was the main building block in rubber. Scientists would later try to recreate this polymer. Later, they would discover that they needed to recreate the behavior of the polymer, not necessarily the polymer itself.
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A History of Neoprene Sheets and Products
1879 – The first sign of synthetic rubber-making appears. Gustave Bouchardat, a French chemist created one of the first forms of synthetic elastomers through the usage of isoprene
1925 –Elmer K. Bolton, a researcher in DuPont laboratories in America, attends a meeting held by the American Chemical Society. A chemistry professor at University of Notre Dame, Father Julius A. Nieuwland, lectures about his research and experimentation with acetylene. This will eventually lead Bolton into discovering the importance of acetylene in neoprene. With Bolton initiating the research, DuPont begins to look for ways to make synthetic rubber.
1930 – Neoprene is created by a group of American scientists in DuPont. This will later be a marking point in history and open the possibilities for making neoprene sheets
1931 – Neoprene is marketed by DuPont laboratories as “DuPrene.”
1934 – Emulsion polymerization becomes the new process to manufacture neoprene. These reactions take place within a hydrocarbon solvent. This process is best used for polymers that are commercially produced in solution form, such as adhesives or coatings.
1937 – DuPont discontinues the trade name “DuPrene” and begins to use “neoprene.” This switch of names is a result of the company wanting to signify to consumers that the product is based on a specific ingredient, setting it aside from other elastomers. “Chloroprene” was another name commonly used for neoprene.
1938 -- Chloroprene foam is accidentally discovered by Otto Bayer, allowing products such as a neoprene foam sheet to be available today. This discovery proves that the rubber could be manufactured in different ways and not just as a chloroprene rubber sheet.
1940 – 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.
1970 – Neoprene makes up for about 5% of DuPont’s sales.
The timeline of neoprene events highlights the important landmarks in history that lead to the discovery and improved innovations of this product. It is obvious that DuPont laboratories had been at the forefront of many of the major developments in the rubber industry. A neoprene foam sheet or even a simple chloroprene rubber sheet would not be here today if not for the dedication and research of scientists in DuPont. Neoprene sheets are a result of multiple historical events, adding up to create a popular and widely-used product. America’s scientific advancements in the 20th century cannot be underestimated. There were many advances in this industry made by other countries during the first half of the century as well. With continued research and improving technology, America’s innovation will continue to shine in the 21st century. The next generation can only benefit from these great strides, as the current generation has already done.