DuPont: From the Banks of the Brandywine to Miracles of Science is a lovely coffee-table book commissioned by E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company to commemorate its 200th anniversary. It’s a study rich in American corporate history, and a treasure trove of naming and branding.
Countless brand names and trademarks have been developed by DuPont in the past couple of centuries. Many of its trademarked products are global brands, like Corian® and Kevlar®. But the book has some lesser-known stories about well-known products that the DuPont Company has made into household words. Words like neoprene, and nylon.
There’s an interesting graphic in the book, depicting this announcement:
EFFECTIVE AT ONCE
WE ARE ADOPTING THE NAME
to describe our chloroprene rubber which has previously been sold under the trade mark “DuPrene.”
The product itself has not been changed in any way and is exactly the same as that previously sold under the trade mark “DuPrene.”
In addition to providing a short generic name for polymerized chloroprene, NEOPRENE can be used to describe the products made from it which display its many distinctive characteristics.
E.I. DUPONT DE NEMOURS & CO. INC.
Rubber Chemicals Division
DECEMBER 16, 1936
DuPont dropped its DuPrene trademark in 1936 and referred to its synthetic rubber afterwards as “neoprene.” DuPont made only the material itself and not the many products, such as insulated electrical wire, hoses and shoe soles, made by the manufacturers who purchased DuPrene and then shaped it for their own uses.
DuPont marketers such as Ernest Bridgwater feared that the company would not be able to control the quality of the actual end-product that reached consumers. Under those circumstances, the generic term “neoprene” was more appropriate to DuPont’s role.
A more colorful reason for withdrawing the trademark, according to the Organic Chemical Department’s Oliver M. Hayden, was the complaint by a West Coast entertainer that DuPont was infringing on her stage name, Duprene. “Perhaps she thought DuPont would buy her off,” Hayden speculated. By that time, however, DuPont had already withdrawn the trademark.
Around the same time, in the mid 1930s, DuPont eschewed trademark protection and embraced market awareness for one of the company’s most popular products ever.
DuPont decided not to make “nylon” a trademark but to keep it as a generic product name. Just two years earlier the company had lost a lawsuit against the Sylvania company, which referred to its own moisture-proof wrap as “cellophane.” DuPont was unable to persuade the court that it had taken sufficient pains to protect “cellophane” as a trademark; instead, it had allowed the name to pass into common usage, as King-Seeley had done with “thermos” and Bayer with “aspirin.” Indeed, the term “nylons” so quickly became the popular way to refer to women’s hosiery that retaining the name as a trademark would have meant enormous effort and expense for DuPont, with no assurance of final success in the courts.
But there is no story about the naming of a DuPont product that resonates with experienced naming and branding professionals more than this anecdote about nylon.
DuPont expected great things from Fiber 66. Eager to give the product a catchy name, the company appointed a special committee to screen suggestions. The Rayon Department’s Dr. Ernest Gladding must have had tongue in cheek when he offered “Duparooh,” for “DuPont Pulls A Rabbit Out Of the Hat.” Other ideas were “Wacara,” a tribute to Wallace Carothers; “Delawear,” Lammot du Pont’s favorite; and 350 other creations, like Dusilk, Moursheen, Rayamide and Silkex. After Gladding’s second suggestion, “norun,” was rejected because the new fabric did run, the naming committee, composed of Gladding, general manager Leonard Yerkes, and his assistant Benjamin May, settled on the prefix “nu.” The second syllable, however, remained a problem. “Nuron,” a flip-flop of “norun,” sounded too much like neuroanatomy. The determined Gladding then struck out the “u” and the “r” and substituted an “i” and an “l.” But “nilon” could sound like “neelon” or “nillon,” so “y” went in for “i” and nylon emerged as the winning name of what DuPont was sure would be a prodigy in its product line.
DuPont’s new tagline “The miracles of science™” replaces the company’s famous motto “Better Things for Better Living through Chemistry™” the inspiration for this post’s headline.