01 July 2010

Invention of Teflon

Today, July 1, is the anniversary of the day, in 1939, when Roy Plunkett filed a patent application for an extremely heat-tolerant no-stick stuff formally known as tetrafluoroethylene resin.

Less formally, it is known by its trade name: Teflon.

Plunkett was working then for DuPont's laboratory in Deepwater, New Jersey. The discovery is said to have been an accident, but no doubt chance favors the prepared.

It was not the only landmark in Plunkett's career. But mortals only get the chance to be remembered, at most, for one achievement. In Plunkett's case, the one is Teflon.

It is even more important as a metaphor than it is as a material. We had one recent President who was remembered, half-jokingly, as the "teflon President," and another who was known, in ironic reversal, as the "velcro President."

So here's to you, Mr. Plunkett. Like the White Line naval engineers who worked on The Titanic, you started with a set of practical workaday issues and ended up with a cosmic paradigm.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.