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ARS Cotton Research Earns ACS Landmark Status

By Erin Peabody
May 14 2004

NEW ORLEANS, La., May 14—A U.S. Department of Agriculture research center here was named a "National Historic Chemical Landmark" today by the American Chemical Society (ACS) for research that led to development of durable-press and flame-resistant cotton fabric.

Over several decades, chemists and other researchers at USDA's Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC) developed the fabrics as part of an overall strategy to improve cotton fabric quality. The SRRC is part of the Agricultural Research Service, USDA's chief in-house scientific research agency.

In a ceremony this morning, SRRC Director John Patrick Jordan received a commemorative bronze plaque from William F. Carroll, Jr., ACS president-elect.

"SRRC's flame-retardant cotton fabrics were first used by the military to give U.S. servicemen and women the best protective apparel possible," said Joseph Jen, USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. "These fabrics have also been used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in early space flights, as well as by fire departments across the country."

As part of their research to develop better cotton fabrics for consumers, SRRC researchers made the first "wash-and-wear" cotton clothing. They first created garments that stayed smooth after washing and drying. They then developed durable press, which brought the convenience of permanent creases to cotton garments.

Eventually the researchers developed a 100-percent-cotton material that could boast wrinkle resistance as well as cotton's comfort and breathability. Since 1965, consumers have been able to buy 100-percent-cotton shirts that retain the softness of cotton but look freshly pressed, even after repeated laundering.

The decision to confer the American Chemical Society's "landmark" status on SRRC was made by an international committee of chemists, chemical engineers and others.