I learned some new stuff about the history of Teflon.
Crusty, burned, food stuck to the surface of a frying pan, will make even the strongest stomach a bit squeamish. Polytetrafluoroethylene, more commonly known as Teflon, is a commercial substance that makes even the stickiest of foods slide off a pan with ease. But what is it, and where does it come from? Teflon is a synthetic fluorpolymer, which just means that it’s a human-created chemical formed with Carbon and Fluorine atoms. Surprisingly, the human who created it, did so by accident!
In 1938, Roy Plunkett of New Jersey went to work at the DuPont chemical factory. He was trying to create a new refrigerant, or a chemical used to cause cooling. This process required collecting gas in a special container, but when he began performing his experiments he noticed that his gas weighed much more than it should. Upon investigation of his container, he found it coated with a slippery, white, waxy gel. DuPont quickly patented the new chemical.
Ten years later, in 1948, DuPont was producing 20 million pounds of Teflon each year! However, at this time it wasn’t being used to coat cook-wear. Instead most of Teflon’s use was for the Manhattan Project. The creation of the nation’s first nuclear weapon required an enormous amount of valves, seals and pipes, all of which were coated with Teflon to aide in assembly. Additionally, Teflon was being sold commercially, for engineers, mechanics, and for any purpose that required a slick surface.
It 1954 it was discovered that Teflon could be used for nonstick cookware. French Engineer, Marc Grogoire, had been using Teflon as a way to detangle his fishing tackles. His wife noticed how smooth the chemical was, and encouraged him to use it on their cooking pans. It was a huge success and within the decade he was selling millions of non-stick cookware pots, which he named Tefal, each year.
It didn’t take long for other companies to copy Grogoire’s idea, and soon there were many brands of Teflon cookware, including some fortified by other materials like diamond and titanium. Today Teflon is still used for the creation of non-stick cookware, but it’s presence is in more places than one would expect. Around fifty percent of Teflon production is used in the insulation of wires for computers and aerospace applications. It’s also used in almost any pipe with moving parts, to help reduce the friction caused by movement. Although the creation of Teflon was an accident, it uses have been widespread, purposeful, and essential for the technologies existing today.