Cellophane inaugurated a consumer revolution. Its sanitary wrapping enabled producers and retailers to attractively display their products and allowed consumers to see what they were buying. DuPont scientist William Hale Charch developed a moisture-proofing system for cellophane in 1927. After that, a series of price cuts and an aggressive marketing campaign portraying cellophane as essential to a cleaner, healthier lifestyle made the film one of the company’s top products. By 1938 its sales accounted for 25 percent of DuPont’s annual profit.
Cellophane was invented in Switzerland, and first produced there commercially in 1912. DuPont acquired U.S. patent rights in 1923 and began production in Buffalo [Link to Buffalo: 1921] a year later. But a serious problem soon appeared. Water could not get through but water vapor could, making cellophane useless for food packaging. DuPont scientist William Hale Charch solved the problem. After testing more than 2,000 alternatives, Charch and a team of researchers had devised a workable process, patenting a moisture-proofing system in 1927.
During World War II, DuPont’s Buffalo, N.Y., Richmond, Va., Old Hickory, Tenn., and Clinton, Iowa, plants all produced large quantities of the material for military use. And although cellophane continued to be highly profitable through the 1950s, by the 1960s new products such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and DuPont’s own Mylar® were supplanting it. Cellophane production limped on through the 1970s and early 1980s until DuPont discontinued it in 1986.