Photo of Delbert H. Meyer

Delbert H. Meyer

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Manufacturing

For his discovery of the process for making purified terephthalic acid (PTA), the key building block in the production of polyester, which resulted in greatly accelerated growth of polyester products such as fabrics, recording tape, tire cord, food packaging and bottles.

Without Delbert H. Meyer’s discovery, fashion in the 1960s and 70s may have looked extremely different. Leisure suits and shiny ties in the disco era were made possible by Meyer’s method of making polyester easier and less expensive to manufacture.

In 1957, Meyer tried and failed many times to eliminate several steps in the purification process for terephthalic acid (PTA), the main ingredient of polyester. Meyer was sure many of the initial experiments would work, but when results weren’t encouraging the project was shelved. In the early 1960s, with the original polyester patent about to expire, Meyer renewed his experiments. After two years perseverance paid off, and his twenty-third approach worked– the discovery allowed 17% more polyester to be made at the same cost.

Fondly known by his children as “The Prince of Polyester,” Meyer’s process still continues to be the basis of more than half the polyester produced around the world for clothing, plastic bottles, food packaging, and more.

By Jen Santisi