70th Anniversary of Nylon Stockings

Many wondrous inventions debuted at the 1939 World's Fair: color photography, air conditioning and television among them.

"I remember seeing two things at the World's Fair: the first television set and nylon stockings," said 91-year-old Rosa Shufleder, who attended the fair with her father. "I thought they were amazing."

As revolutionary as TV was, most women at the time would probably have been most excited by the prospect of a stocking that would last.

"The silk stockings ran the minute you put them on," said 95-year old Mae Levy. "I always had a second pair in my purse in case I got a bad run."

VIDEO: In 1940, nylon stockings hit the shelves, replacing delicate silk stockings.Play
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Strong as Steel, Fine as Spider's Web

The Dupont Company introduced its magical material, a combination of hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen, at the fair, billing it as "strong as steel, as fine as spider's web." Initially, the synthetic polymer was used for fishing line and toothbrush bristles.

Then, on May 15, 1940, nylon stockings were available for the first time at Gimbels Department Store. Some 64 million pairs of nylon stockings were sold that first year at $1.35 each. That is $21 in today's money and more expensive than silk.

"The nylon stockings turned out to be so much cheaper because they lasted so much longer," recalled Levy.

Until the creation of nylon, women were stuck with wool stockings, which were hot, or silk stockings, which ran easily.

Nylons on the Silver Screen

Nylon didn't just make its debut on women's legs -- it made its way into the movies in 1939. Thank nylon for the tornado in the Wizard of Oz that sweeps Dorothy up and away from Kansas.

The American woman's love affair with nylon was cut short with the dawn of World War II. By 1942, the precious material was needed to make parachutes and tents for the war effort. Stockings became so scarce, some women used make-up on their legs to create the illusion of pantyhose.

After the war, nylon was once again stocking store shelves.

"I remember being thrilled at having stockings that didn't run," Levy said.

Seventy years and counting.

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