On October 24, 1911, American mechanical engineer and inventor Nathaniel C. Wyeth was born. Wyeth is best known for creating polyethylene terephthalate that could withstand the pressure of carbonated liquids. Made of recyclable PET plastic, lighter than glass and virtually unbreakable, Wyeth’s invention is used widely today for both carbonated and non-carbonated drinks.
Nathaniel Wyeth was the brother of the painters Andrew Wyeth and Henriette Wyeth Hurd as well as the son of artist and illustrator N. C. Wyeth and father of musician Howard Wyeth. At the University of Pennsylvania, Nathaniel Wyeth earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. In 1936, he joined DuPont as a field engineer and became the company’s first engineering fellow and when he retired in 1976.
During the 1960s, Wyeth asked himself whether soda could be stored in plastic bottles. He began experimenting with a plastic detergent bottle that proved incapable of withstanding the forces of pressurized liquids, he realized that a much stronger material would be required. He initially experimented with polypropylene, but ultimately settled on polyethylene terephthalate as the material and received the patent in 1973. Polyethylene terephthalate had previously been patented in 1941 by John Rex Whinfield, James Tennant Dickson and their employer the Calico Printers’ Association of Manchester, England. However, DuPont first used the trademark Mylar in June 1951 and received registration of it in 1952. In the Soviet Union, PET was first manufactured in the laboratories of the Institute of High-Molecular Compounds of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1949.
In 1981, Nathaniel Wyeth received the Society of Plastics Engineers international award for outstanding achievement, and was inducted into the Society of the Plastics Industry Hall of Fame five years later. In 1990, Wyeth was awarded DuPont’s Lavoisier Award for Technical Achievement. Further innovations by Wyeth include improvements to manufacturing processes, plastics, textiles, electronics and mechanical devices.
At yovisto you can learn more about plastic pollution in a lecture by Dianna Cohen.
References and Further Reading: