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Plastics Technology > Samples

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Samples of synthetic fibre, 1940 - 1945
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Object statement
Samples of synthetic fibre (10), Rayon / Aralac / Lanital / nylon / wool, makers unknown, Britain and USA, 1940-1945
Plastics have been described as "materials that can be moulded or shaped into different forms under pressure or heat." They were a cultural phenomenon in the twentieth century when they changed the way objects were produced, designed and used. It was also in the twentieth century that most plastic products moved away from natural raw materials to synthetically produced ones.

The museum's plastics collection began in the 1930s with the acquisition of specimens of plastic raw materials and finished products. The collection was driven largely by Arthur de Ramon Penfold (1890-1980), a former industrial chemist, who worked as curator and later director of the museum from 1927 until 1955.

Synthetic fibres comprised an important part of the Museum's plastic collection. Arthur Penfold stated "the production of synthetic fibres is still more or less in its infancy, the future is unpredictable. They have revolutionised women's dress; they have caused an ever-widening range of attractive fibres to be made available at prices to suit the pockets of all classes in all countries. The textile market appears to be an expanding one; the capacity of the world to absorb new fibres is unknown".

Aralac and Lanital are synthetic fibres made from the milk protein casein. The fibre was first developed in Italy in the 1930s and became a popular material to mix with wool and fur to create inexpensive clothing and textiles. These samples of synthetic fibre were donated to the Museum in 1945 by the Australian Wool Board, as examples of the different textiles being mixed with wool at the time.

These objects are a part of a large collection of plastics and plastic moulding powders acquired by the museum during Arthur Penfold's career. This collection gives an insight into a period of great social, material, technological and scientific development as well as the collecting practices of the museum at the time. Plastics continues to be an area that is explored and represented in the museum's collection, however today it reflects some of the more ambivalent attitudes towards plastics and their use, particularly in regards to the environment and sustainability.

Reference:

Sunday Telegraph, 'For plastics he saw great things', 11 November 1945.
M. Kaufman, the First Century of Plastics, The Plastics Institute, London, 1963. pg55
Penfold, A. R., 'Plastics and Synthetic Fibres', A.H. Pettifer, Government Printer, Sydney, 1956

Erika Dicker
Assistant Curator, May 2008.
During their development in 1930s, 40s, and 50s, synthetic fibres offered a cost effective solution to using natural materials, which were becoming increasingly expensive. Wool became scarce during World War II, owing to the vast amounts that were required to make military uniforms. Manufacturers quickly discovered new cheap and easily obtainable raw materials to use in the creation of textiles. Raw materials, such as casein from skim milk or protein from peanuts, could be dispersed in a solution of caustic soda and then have carbon disulphide added. The solution was then aged, and forced through a sieve like apparatus called a 'spinneret'. The resulting filaments could then be spun on a spinning machine. The synthetic fibres were then mixed with wool, rayon, or cotton to produce textiles that were used in numerous applications.

These textiles are made from synthetic fibres that can be mixed with wool. These particular samples are made from the fibres 'Lanital' and 'Aralac', which are different trade names for synthetic casein fibres. Lanital was trade marked in 1937 by Italian firm Snia Viscosa, who were one of the worlds largest producers of synthetic fibres in the 1930s. Aralac is its American equivalent, patented a few years later.

Casein is the protein found in milk and can be treated with alkalis and chemicals to be made into a fibre that closely resembles wool in its chemical composition. This technology was first developed in Italy, and the resulting textiles were also known as 'Italian Wool'.

In 1935, the first experimental Lanital fibres possessed only 10 percent the strength of natural wool. Eventually it was found that a mix of 50% Lanital and 50% wool produced a much more desirable textile. The plastic properties of casein gave the textile a permanent creasing ability, and improved its fineness. One of the benefits of the casein fibre was that it could be easily mixed with other fibres. Arthur Penfold saw a great opportunity for the rabbit fur industry to utilise these new fibres, as the rabbit population was being dramatically decreased by the introduction of the myxomatosis virus at the time. He predicted correctly and the casein fibre became an important factor in the fur felt and wool fur hat industry, when rabbit fur became scarce in the late 1940s early 1950s. Real fur and wool was mixed with the casein fibre to produce a product almost equal in quality, and at a cheaper production cost.

The manufacture of Lanital stopped after World War II but resumed again in 1952 under the name 'Merinova'. Similar fibres were in manufacture at the same time under names such as 'Fibrolane' and 'Casolana'. In 1945 the price for a pound of wool was approximately $1.50. Aralac could be produced for as little as 64 cents per pound.

Arthur Penfold realised the benefits of using casein in synthetic fibres, stating that "there are great possibilities when you realise a cow, in the course of its productive life, could produce about forty suits."

Reference:
Penfold, A. R., 'Plastics and Synthetic Fibres', A.H. Pettifer, Government Printer, Sydney, 1956
Lanital, in Time Magazine, December, 1937.
These synthetic fibres were donated to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in 1945 by the Australian Wool Board (AWB). They joined the Museum's growing collection of plastic and synthetic fibres. The AWB had gathered these synthetic fibres from Great Britain and America in 1944, for experimentation and study. Arthur Penfold wrote to the AWB numerous times to request that these samples be donated to the Museum after the Wool Board had finished with them.

Reference:
Correspondence, F. R. Morrison and The Australian Wool Board, October, 1945, Museum Archives, MRS 202.

 This text content licensed under CC BY-NC.

Description
Samples of synthetic fibre (10), Rayon / Aralac / Lanital / nylon / wool, makers unknown, Britain and USA, 1940-1945

10 samples made from synthetic fibre, Dupont spun rayon and aralac, 100% rayon fabric similar to 'Woolyke', Lanital fabric, Aralac, Nylon, Cohama Nylon fleece, Rayon, Rayon staple, Woollen fabric from Czecho-slovakia; glass fabric (LC).
Made: 1940 - 1945
H4701
Production date
1940 - 1945

 This text content licensed under CC BY-SA.
Acquisition credit line
Gift of The Australian Wool Board, 1945
Subjects
+ Penfold, Arthur
+ Plastics technology
+ Australian Wool Board
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{{cite web |url=http://from.ph/240554 |title=Samples of synthetic fibre |author=Powerhouse Museum |accessdate=16 September 2014 |publisher=Powerhouse Museum, Australia}}


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