On 02 November 1931, DuPont announced the first synthetic rubber, neoprene. The inventor was Rev. Julius Nieuwland, C.S.C.. At the time of his invention, Nieuwland was a professor at the University of Notre Dame and a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Cross.
Nieuwland was born of Flemish parents in Hansbeke, Belgium and immigrated as a youngster with his family to South Bend, Indiana. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1899, studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1903, and received his Ph.D. from Catholic University in 1904. He taught botany for a number of years at Notre Dame, and in 1918 became a professor of organic chemistry. At that time, he was working with acetylene. In the course of this work, he discovered a reaction between acetylene and arsenic trichloride that eventuallyled to the development of the poison gas lewisite.
Nieuwland’s work with acetylene also led him into a collaboration with scientists at Du Pont. Together, they found that upon treating monovinylacetylene with hydrogen chloride to produce chloroprene and polymerizing the result, a very durable synthetic rubber, neoprene, was produced. Du Pont placed this rubber on the market in 1932 under the brand name Duprene.
Neoprene has been considered superior to rubber in terms of its resistance to sunlight, abrasion, and temperature extremes. These properties gained it popularity in many industries. Neoprene is favored for electrical cable insulation; telephone house-to-house wiring; many moulded, extruded, and sheet products; rug backings; and roofing – and wetsuits.