In the first part of the 20th century, the fabrics used for clothing were all produced from natural sources.
Wool from animals and cotton from plants are natural polymers with properties well suited for clothing.
One of the most sought after fabrics was silk, produced in nature by silk worms and moth caterpillars.
It was used in everything from dresses to stockings, but it was an expensive garment and snagged easily.
Then in 1939 came a revolutionary breakthrough.
The fashion world was transformed at the New York World's Fair, when the first ever completely synthetic fibre was unveiled to the masses – nylon.
It was a new, cheaper and more durable fabric and caused hysteria among women, who fought over nylon stockings.
The man who invented this amazing new material was Wallace Carothers.
Wallace Carothers, 1939
He, with his team, had been working on an alternative to silk.
They were studying chains of repeated units called polymers, long molecules that had been obtained from the products of crude oil.
Carothers let solutions of two different carbon compounds come into contact with one another.
At the boundary of the two solutions, he saw that a white solid had formed, and when he pulled it out with a glass rod, he found it could be stretched into a long fibre.
He had discovered nylon.
The fibre, which they were calling Polymer 66, could be spun out until it was incredibly thin, and it was still extremely strong.
The strength of nylon comes from amide groups in its molecular chain, which bond strongly together in order to form very tightly packed chains.
Making it well suited to creating fabrics designed to stand up to intense forces, which made it ideal for use in parachutes and ropes during the second world war.
Today it is used in many products, from bags to bulletproof vests, and of course nylon tights.