The History of Kevlar

As a protective element, Kevlar is still a relatively new product. Its origins begin in 1965, when DuPont decided that they wanted to manufacture a new tyre in order to save their customers money. Their aim was to make a tyre that was lighter and more durable than the tyres that the company sold at the time. There was an anticipated gas shortage looming and the company knew that if they could develop a stronger, longer lasting tyre that helped diminish the amount of gas a car used, it would be hugely successful. DuPont hired Stephanie Kwolek to be in charge of a team of inventors who would develop the revolutionary material, Kevlar. After many trials and errors, Kwolek discovered that one of the materials they developed had extraordinary qualities about it.

Poly-p-Phenylene-terephthalate and polybenzamide were used to make a fibre that could withstand tension unlike any previously developed fibre, and Kwolek knew straight away that she and her team had developed something amazing. Kwolek took her fibre to a technician asked him to place the fibre on a “spinneret” – a machine used to test the strength of fibres. Charles Smullen, the technician, did not know how amazing the result of the testing would be. He placed the newly discovered fibre on the spinneret and was surprised to see that the fibre would not break during the testing. Previously used fibres such as nylon broke with little tension but this newly developed fibre could withstand tension that no other fibre could withstand. Kwolek immediately contacted her superiors to let them know about her revolutionary discovery. Instantly, they knew that she had developed something that would change the world. DuPont immediately established a polymer chemistry department and continued developing the fibre until 1971, when the world was finally introduced to Kevlar.

For many years, steel was the primary material used in the production of body armour. Steel offered great levels of protection but it was very cumbersome and made it difficult for individuals to move freely. Since its introduction, Kevlar has become the material that is most commonly used in the production of body armour. Kevlar is much lighter and more comfortable to wear than steel, and offers five times the protection for its weight. It is now used by millions across the world and has saved many lives.

The use of Kevlar is not only limited to body armour. Kevlar is used in many items that we use on a daily basis, and most do not even realise. As its original production indented, Kevlar is used on tyres. The tyres used on bikes have an inner lining of Kevlar that provides them with the strength they need to be able to withstand punctures while someone is riding. Motor cycle enthusiasts are thankful for Kevlar because it is used in many of the jackets they wear on a daily basis. The elbow and shoulder padding found in many of the jackets is made of Kevlar and offers the riders protection if they get into an accident. Many people use a Smartphone on a daily basis without realising that some of the phones have a backplate that use Kevlar to help protect the inner mechanics of the phone. New uses for Kevlar are constantly being found and the world continues to be thankful for Kwolek’s discovery.