Nylon: From Labs to Legs

Discover the world’s first fully synthetic fiber and how it paved the way for countless other artificial materials.

This exhibition, presented both digitally and on-site, charts the development of nylon, from its creation in DuPont’s lab by chemist Wallace Carothers and his team in the 1930s to its applications today. On display are materials and objects in our collections that trace nylon’s evolution from labs to legs.

Our journey begins with nylon’s early production in photographs and artifacts like Carothers’s notebook and nylon pellets. Next, laddered nylon wear-test underwear and hosiery from 1938 teaches us about DuPont’s culture of materials research and experimentation. After this we meet “The Test Tube Girl” and learn how DuPont gendered the latest synthetic developments and presented these at the famous 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Finally, discover more about the legacies of nylon and examples of different ways it is used in contemporary intimate technologies of the body, such as in binders and swimwear.  

Take a Virtual Tour

Curator Isabelle Marina Held presents Nylon: From Labs to Legs, which was on display at our museum in Philadelphia from October 13, 2021, to February 16, 2022.

Nylon: From Labs to Legs was curated by Institute fellow Isabelle Marina Held with assistance from the library’s Ashley Augustyniak and the museum’s Katie Lagarde and Molly Sampson.


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