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July 20, 2024


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Fabric University | Fabric Seminar | Fiber History
Fabric Seminar


The history of textile fibers extends back 1,000's of years. The use of wool goes back over 4,000 years. In comparison, the man-made fiber industry began with the first commerical production of rayon in 1910.

The 1950's and 1960's was when there was a great deal of technology happening in the man-made fiber industry. And the technology continues through today. Microfibers, fibers finer than the finest silk, were developed in 1989 and lyocell, was developed in 1993. Today, many man-made fibers, including polyester have been developed into beautiful fabrics that are being used by major designers.

Natural Fibers

History of the principal natural fibers used in textiles for apparel and home fashion is provided in the following table.

5,000+ BC
  • Generally considered to be the oldest natural textile fiber.
  • Fine linen was used as burial shrouds for the Egyptian pharaohs
  • Largest producer: Soviet States; other large producers include Poland, Germany, Belgium and France. Largest exporters are Northern Ireland and Belgium.
3,000+ BC
  • Earliest use estimated between 3,000 BC to 5,000 BC.
  • Worn by Egyptians earlier than 2,500 BC.
  • Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1793 revolutionized the processing of cotton.
  • The development of the power loom in 1884 brought significant improvements and variations to cotton fabrics.
  • Major producers: United States, Soviet States, China and India. Lessor producers include Pakistan, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico Iran and Sudan.
3,000 BC
  • Used by people of the Late Stone Age,
  • There are 40 different breeds of sheep, which produce approximately 200 types of wool of varying grades.
  • Major producers include: Australia, New Zealand, Soviet States, China, South Africa, and Argentina.
2,600 BC
  • Believed discovered by a Chinese princess.
  • Silk is made from two continuous filaments cemented together and used to form the cocoon of the silkworm.
  • Silk culture began about 1725 BC, sponsored by the wife of China's emperor.
  • Secrets of cultivation and fabric manufacturing were closely guarded by the Chinese for about 3,000 years.
  • There is a story that two monks smuggled seeds of the mulberry tree and silkworm eggs out of China by hiding them in their walking sticks.
  • India learned of silk culture when a Chinese princess married an Indian prince.
  • The major producer and exporter of silk is Japan.

Man-Made Fibers

The history of U.S. Production of the principal man-made fibers used in textiles for apparel and home fashion is provided below.

It is important to understand that all manufactured fibers are not alike. Each fiber has a unique composition and it's own set of physical properties. The U. S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has established generic names and definitions for manufactured fibers, including acetate, acrylic, elastoester, lyocell, modacrylic, nylon, PLA, polyester, polypropylene (olefin), rayon, and spandex. However, all fibers under a generic name are not exactly the same.

Fiber producers have been able to modify the basic composition of each generic fiber, both chemically and physically, to produce variations which provide a softer feel, greater comfort, brighter/longer lasting colors, better warmth/cooling, moisture transport/wicking, and better properties for blending with other fibers. These improved fibers are given a trademark name and are owned and promoted by the fiber producer.

The following is a history of manufactured fibers and when they were first commercially available.

  • The first man-made fiber.
  • The first commercial production of rayon fiber in the United States was in 1910 by the American Viscose Company.
  • By using two different chemicals and manufacturing techniques, two basic types of rayon were developed. They were viscose rayon and cuprammonium rayon.
  • Today, there are no producers of rayon in the U.S.
  • The first commercial production of acetate fiber in the United States was in 1924 by the Celanese Corporation.
  • The first commercial production of nylon in the United States was in 1939 by the E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc. It is the second most used man-made fiber in this country, behind polyester.
  • The first commercial production of acrylic fiber in the United States was in 1950 by E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc.
  • The first commercial production of polyester fiber in the United States was in 1953 by E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc.
  • Polyester is the most used man-made fiber in the U.S.
  • The first commercial production of triacetate fiber in the United States was in 1954 by the Celanese Corporation.
  • Domestic Triacetate production was discontinued in 1985.
  • The first commercial production of spandex fiber in the United States was in 1959 by E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc.
  • It is an elastomeric man-made fiber (able to stretch at least 100% and snap back like natural rubber).
  • Spandex is used in filament form.
  • The first commercial production of an olefin fiber manufactured in the U.S. was by Hercules Incorporated.
  • In 1966, polyolefin was the world's first and only Nobel-Prize winning fiber.
  • The first commercial production of micro fiber in the U.S. was in 1989 by E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Inc.
  • A microfiber is not really a new fiber, but rather a fiber that is micro-sized. Today micro fibers are produced in a variety of synthetic fibers (i.e. polyester, nylon, acrylic, etc.)
  • The true definition of a micro fiber is a fiber that has less than one denier per filament. Micro Fiber is the thinnest, finest of all man-made fibers. It is finer than the most delicate silk.
  • To relate it to something more familiar--A human hair is more than 100 times the size of some micro fibers
  • The first commercial production of lyocell in the U.S. was in 1993 by Courtaulds Fibers, under the Tencel¬ trade name.
  • Environmentally friendly, lyocell is produced from the wood pulp of trees grown specifically for this purpose. It is specially processed, using a solvent spinning technique in which the dissolving agent is recycled, reducing environmental effluents.
  • The first commercial production of elastoester was in Japan in 1997 by Teijin Limited.
  • Stretch fiber similar but chemically different than spandex, and has better washability and dyeability.
  • Used in swimwear, cyling, ski and garments that require stretch..
  • The first commercial production of PLA was in 2001 by Cargill Dow LLC.
  • Man-made fiber derived from renewable soources (agricultural crops such as corn) and is biodegradeable.
  • Has low absorption, high wicking, high resistance to UV ight, excellent color characteristics and is lightweight.
Please continue to Fiber Producers and Trademarks
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High Performance Aramid Fibers

The first High Performance Aramid Fiber, "super fiber", was aromatic polyamide (aramid), e.g. Kevlar™, developed by DuPont in the 1960's and commercialized in the early '70's. The success of aramid fibers led to a great deal of research at other polymer and fiber producers, and the result was a series of high performance (high modulus, high strength) fiber introductions in the 1980's and 1990's. These fibers included gel-spun high modulus polyethylene (HMPE), super-aramids and aramid copolymers, and melt-spun liquid crystal aromatic polyester (LCP). Learn more about these Super Fibers.

1960s & 1970s
  • First "Super fiber" - Aromatic Polyamide/Aramid
  • Includes Gel-spun high modulus polyethylene (HMPE)
1980s & 19990s



  • Super Aramids, Aramid copolymers.
  • High Performance Liquid Crystal Aromatic Polyester (LCP).
Please continue to Fiber Producers and Trademarks
Or, Return to Seminar Index

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