Teflon is one of the most popular and sought after non-stick substances on the planet. It has been listed by the Guiness Book of World Records as the slipperiest substance on Earth. Plastic material polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is made from combining fluorspar, hydrofluoric acid, and chloroform and heating them to a very high temperature. The chemical reaction creates the PTFE. The PTFE coating process can be used on a number of different products.
In 1938, Roy Plunkett invented the PTFE by accident while working for DuPont. He was trying to develop a new kind of refrigerant using tetrafluorethylene (TFE). He ordered a hundred pounds of the gas, which was stored in cylinders and cooled. What happened to the pressurized canisters when they were frozen was the polymerization of the TFE. It had been widely assumed that TFE would not ever behave this way so Plunket was shocked. The new PTFE was a white, waxy power. What they discovered was this new substance was non reactive, non-corrosive, chemically stable, had a very high melting point and was very, very slippery. DuPont was issued a patent for the PTFE coating process a few years later.
Initially, Plunkett’s invention was used to help scientists on the Manhattan project. The industrial Teflon coating was used to protect workers from the corrosive and dangerous chemicals they needed for their work. DuPont earmarked all PTFE coatings for this project. In 1944, DuPont was issued a patent for Teflon.
In the early1950s, a man in Paris, France needed a way to keep his fishing materials and supplies from getting tangled up. Marc Gregoire, an engineer, began putting the PTFE powder coating on his wife’s, Collete,pans. He started selling the pans, which he called Tefal. He opened a shop called Tefal. Within a few years, he was selling more than one million pans each year.
The pans and pots with their PTFE coatings were brought back to the United States by Thomas Hardie. One of his fiends had just come from Paris where they had bought the Tefal pan. Hardie knew these pans would do well with cooks in the United States. He faced problems getting any interest from manufacturers. After about two years of trying, he bought three thousand Tefal pans. None of the major department stores.
Finally, Hardie was able to get someone at the Macy’s in New York’s Herald Square to accept 200 of the non-stick pans. Within less than two days, they were all gone. Now, he could not get them made fast enough. He already had a relationship with DuPont but then problems arose. American manufacturers began applying Teflon to their pans. Non-stick pans were everywhere. Unfortunately, the American manufacturers lacked Gregoir’s experience with the Teflon coating process. The result was cookware that was very much inferior and the cookware developed a bad reputation.
DuPont remained convinced that that non-stick cookware was a great product. They recognized the threats posed by inferior pots pans and developed a set of standards for the PTFE coating process. Only products that passed their rigorous certification program would get the official seal of approval from DuPont. This kept the quality of the products with the Teflon name higher and kept the DuPont name in the public eye.
DuPont continued to make improvements to the PTFE coating process and to the material itself. Soon the cookware was no longer just non-stick but it was also hard to scratch or damage.
Teflon is an interesting substance. It is a very large molecule, one of the largest on the planet. It is made up of carbon and fluorine. When the people at the Guinness Book of World Records were looking at it to see how slippery it is, they discovered that even the gecko cannot stick to it. When the two fluorine atoms combine with one carbon atom, the result is a substance that repels other matter, such as the poor gecko lizard.
The PTFE coating process is a very valuable one. Some people estimate that by the year 2017, production of Teflon will reach more than 240,000 tons. PTFE was discovered by accident and non-stick cookware was made to appeal to a French engineer’s wife. Today, most people cannot imagine life without Teflon.