Tyvek is a classic case of a slow starter. It grew out of research into nonwoven fabrics begun by William Hale Charch in 1944, took 15 years to develop, and required another 15 years to become profitable. Today Tyvek building wrap can be seen in nearly every housing development, and it has gained a firm foothold in the envelope market. Tyvek also is popular in sterile packaging and as protective clothing.
In the early 1950s, DuPont scientists succeeded in creating a form of synthetic paper by shredding and processing nylon fibers, but it took a serendipitous discovery to make the product viable. During the mid-1950s, DuPont plastics researchers separated solvent from polyethylene by the rapid release of pressure at high temperature. This process yielded a “spunbonded” web of interconnected filaments ideal for producing paper-like substances. The discovery that this material could protect against external moisture while allowing internal moisture to escape led to the transfer of the project to DuPont’s New Products Division for development. Tyvek was introduced in 1961. Spunbonded polyester and polypropylene products followed, but 15 years later none had turned a profit. The polypropylene variant was sold, but DuPont held on to Tyvek, and at the end of the 1970s it began to live up to its promise.