"Business Week", August 9, 1941
Shutting off raw silk brings crisis for women of U. S. and acute problem for both manufacturers and retailers.
In most countries, silk stockings are a luxury pretty much restricted to a few fortunate women in the upper income brackets. But to the average U. S. female over the age of 12, they are one of the basic necessities. The United States imports almost its entire supply of raw silk from Japan, and 90% of this goes into stockings, mostly women's. Last week, women took one quick look at the headlines announcing the new crisis in Japanese-American relations, grabbed their pocketbooks, and dived headlong for the nearest stocking counter.
The result was a rush of business practically unparalleled in retail history. In one New York specialty shop, an imperious customer said, "I use four pairs a month. Give me enough to last two years." In Denver, one woman put three $100 bills on the counter and ordered. "That many stockings, size 9, I don't care what color." Stores everywhere added extra sales help, in many cases taking on inexperienced girls. The plea of OPACs' Harriet Elliott, that women avoid piggishness and buy only for their immediate needs did not even wheel the tide.
Christmas in July. Women's Wear Dailv, in a quick survey of the situation, reported sales in individual cities up 100% to 300%, with the heaviest buying on the East and West Coasts. Totalvolume was estimated as better than double that of the big Christmas season, which ordinarily accounts for between 17% and 18% of annual stocking sales. By the beginning of this week, following OPMs order of last Saturday halting processing of raw silk and announcing that the government would take over all stocks-on-hand for the production of parachutes and silk bags for explosives, the run on the market had reached such proportions that most stores were limiting customers to two or three pairs apiece. Even rationing, however, did not prevent a virtual sell-out of almost all popular brands, lines. and sizes by the end of this week.
Makers Ration, Too. Hosiery manufacturers, likewise, were resorting to rationing in apportioning their slender stocks of finished hosiery and dry goods to retailers. With enough of these on hand to supply only about five months normal demand, many manufacturers and distributors stopped all shipments pending a general clarification of the situation.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Hosiery Woes
"Business Week", February 7, 1942.
Industry hears that nylon supply will be commandeered by WPB, can 't figure out what's to be done about yarn.
"We could figure a way to knit them of grass one day, and the next day there would be a priority on grass." Thus spoke an embittered manufacturer of women's hosiery early this week.
Distressing Report. In the past six months the hosiery industry, particularly that part of it which produces women's full-fashioned stockings, has been singularly ill-starred. Last week it was forced to swallow the nastiest pill yet. Word seeped out of Washington that the War Production Board may shortly commandeer the entire production of du Pont's nylon for parachutes, powder bags, and other military uses. When trade between the U.S. and Japan came to a complete stop last August, approximately three-fourth's of this country's total output of women's full-fashioned hosiery was of silk. Bolstered by OPM action allocating it special supplies of rayon (BW - Aug.9 '41, p24), the industry prepared to make up the silk deficiency with rayon and cotton -- both until then negligible factors in full-fashioned production.
Step up in Output. Nylon, the only silk substitute with full acceptance from both the industry and consumers, already accounted for 20% of full-fashioned output. Many manufacturers hoped they would have to use rayon and cotton only as a stopgap until nylon supplies could be stepped up. The original nylon plant at Seaford, Del., has an annual production of 8,000,000 lb. Completion of a new plant in Martinsville, W. Va., sometime next summer should double this. In November, du Pont announced plans for increasing capacity at Seaford 50%. Thus the hosiery industry has had an annual nylon production of 20,000,000 lb. in view with the expectation (on the basis of past experience) of getting around 80% of it.
Less for Hosiery. The industry had not been totally unprepared for the gloomy report that came out of Washington last week, however. Early last month, du Pont slashed deliveries to civilian customers 20% under pressure of war orders. For some time now, hosiery manufacturers have had difficulty in getting delivery on nylon yarn in the heavier, longer-wearing deniers (60's and 40's) for "service-weight" stockings. These deniers are earmarked for the Army and Navy. So far, Washington has taken no official action on nylon, but WPB admits that it will move soon. Whether WPB will commandeer the entire production or leave a small percentage for hosiery makers depends on what priority du Pont can get for phenol, used in making nylon intermediates -- and in numberless war industries. There is a report that du Pont is experimenting with benzol on which the supply situation is not so tight.
No Relief in Sight. Hosiery makers say that even if they get as much as 18% of viscose and cuprammonium output, it will barely make up for the loss of silk, certainly won't compensate them for nylon. Nor is there anything bright about the supply situation on cotton, last resort of the industry. Fine lisles (made from long staple cotton) and even 60- and 80-count cottons are now almost as difficult to obtain as nylon and rayon. Thus the full-fashioned industry, which has reduced operations by some 20% in the past five months, is prepared for still further curtailment, probably coupled with rationing right down the line.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -"A Woman Complains"
"Business Week", October 3, 1942, p87.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Bootleg Nylons
"Readers Digest", February 1945
Watch out for the fellow who offers to sell you "nylon" hosiery! There isn't any.
No mere man can fully understand the power of nylon stockings over women's minds, hearts, and consciences. But a lot of men are busy exploiting this feminine weakness.
Foremost example: Uncle Sam. The only legitimate purchaser of nylon hosiery in the world is the U.S. Government. No, the stockings aren't "sent to Iceland on lend-lease," as reported in a silly story that was repeated on the floor of Congress. They travel a much more devious route.
Our secret agents overseas discovered that a half dozen pairs of sheer nylons would buy more information from certain mysterious women in Europe and North Africa than a fistful of money. After all, what could the ladies buy with money in the empty shops of the Old World? So several large hosiery mills, which had made no nylons since Pearl Harbor, received substantial orders from Washington; the necessary yarn, they were informed, would be available. Pleasantly surprised, they turned out the merchandise -- the only nylons legitimately manufactured in years.
Nevertheless, enough American women want nylon stockings at any price, in contempt of law, and with callous indifference to our soldiers' needs for other nylon goods, to support a sizable black market. It is some satisfaction to record that the black market operators give the women a merciless stinging.
Thirteen cases of raw nylon en route from the Du Pont factory in Martinsville, Va., to a parachute yarn plant in Winston-Salem, N.C., were stolen from a motor-freight terminal in Greensboro, N.C. Accepting the thin story that the nylon was salvage from a warehouse fire, two manufacturers made it up into hosiery. It was spread as far as possible by making the feet and tops of cotton. But these skimpy makeshift stockings sold readily for $5 a pair to bootleggers, who in turn got $10 a pair from customers, male and female, hexed by the magic word "nylon." The nylon yarn was worth $7800; it was made into $140,000 worth of stockings.
FBI and OPA agents arrested three men. One, a former official of a trucking company, was fined $5,000 and is serving a two-year prison term. The two hosiery mill men were fined $12,000 each and placed on 18 months' probation. The Government agents managed to seize 5,000 pairs of hose before they could be peddled. These, by court order, were sold at the OPA ceiling prime of $ 1.65 a pair in the office of the U.S. Marshal in Greensboro. The sale was to begin at ten o' clock in the morning. At 5 a.m. the queue began to form; when the doors opened, the line of women, four abreast, extended four city blocks. Half of them went away disappointed.
Much more intricate was another scheme for black market nylons. A silk mill in Pennsylvania got a contract to convert raw nylon into thread for glider towropes. Part of the raw nylon was systematically snitched, and accounted for in reports to the WPB as "spoilage." The "spoiled" nylon was transported to three hosiery mills whose owners were in the plot. When the FBI cracked down, it found 10,320 pairs of nylons in one warehouse, 6,500 unfinished pairs in another, enough thread to make 36,000 pairs more. Four men were indicted.
Most patrons of the nylon black market are stung in two ways: they pay fantastic prices and they do not get nylon. Travelers, and even professional merchandise buyers who should know better, have bought "Mexican nylon" in quantities. Sometimes they have misleading names, such as "carbonyl."
Dozens of pairs have turned up for laboratory analysis at the New York headquarters of the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers. They're just rayon. You can get them at any hosiery counter in the United States; ceiling price, $1.25.
An Omaha store imported 1,680 pairs of these "nylons" in good faith and advertised them at $2.25, plus $1.85 for customs duty. The Better Business Bureau had a pair analyzed and thus convinced the merchant he had been victimized. The stockings were withdrawn from sale.
The lengths to which the gyps will go is indicated by the troubles of the Van Raalte Company. It is getting a stream of complaints about hosiery bought as nylon, stamped with the Van Raalte name and the nylon trademark and, most convincing, made with the patented Van Raalte toe. Some victims bought the counterfeits in Mexico City, some bought them from bootleggers in the U.S.; but it seems plain that the imitations were all made in Mexico.
The small amount of honest nylon wastage or spoilage that does occur in war production is allotted to manufacturers of underwear, brassieres and girdles -- never to hosiery mills. Every retailer should know that there just isn't any nylon hosiery to be had. Still, when George M. Toney wrote to 1,000 stores from a post office box address in Washington, D. C., offering nylons at $7.44 a dozen pairs, he got orders with some $2,000 cash by return mail. There is no guesswork about the money, because postal authorities opened his mail and counted it.
Ruses of the bootleggers show little originality. The driver of a delivery truck, often bearing the name of a well-known shop, stops a woman on the street and tells her that some nylons were put on his truck by mistake. She can have them at $5 (or $10) a pair. Or a peddler drifts into a doctor's office on the pretext of making an appointment. He casually mentions that the parcel in his hand contains nylon stockings -- unfortunately not his wife's size. Could anyone use them? He is typical of the shifty-eyed, furtive nylon bootleggers who canvass office buildings in the big cities.
Perhaps the limit of credulity is reached by the people who buy compounds which, dissolved in water, will "nylonize" rayon stockings. One of the big hosiery manufacturers remarked dryly, "If any chemist has such a formula, he needn't bother with the 25-cent trade. I'll give him $5,000,000 for it in cash."
After the war there will be nylon hosiery, finer, sheerer, stronger, more beautiful than ever before. Designs for the machines to make it are past the blueprint stage. But until the war is over, the Army and Navy need every pound of nylon. There won't be any for stockings except what is stolen. And there won't be much stolen. So, ladies -- don't be suckers.Copyright © 1998 The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.
( http://invention.smithsonian.org/center ... fPac4.html