During the Second World War, a lesser known but equally important war was being fought: The Great Fabric War. Irish textile manufacturer, Finnegan O’Fergus set out to create a synthetic fabric that would be more durable, flexible and cost-effective than cotton. He determined that the common Irish potato was a perfect medium through which to develop this wonder fabric. Through extensive experimentation with potato starches and their natural polyesters, he finally came up with a material which he called “Potaterylene.” This miracle fiber was lightweight, durable, stain and water resistant and flexible. Knowing the value of his invention, O’Fergus set out for England and the patent office in London. He was certain that his fortune was about to be made. Until …
O’Fergus arrived at the Patent Office only a few minutes before closing. He hurriedly handed over his application and corresponding notes, research and formulas for Potaterylene to Patent Clerk (and frustrated chemist) John Rex Whinfield. Whinfield assured him the paperwork would be filed before the office closed on this Friday afternoon and O’Fergus left to find a quiet pub in which to celebrate his imminent success.
Whinfield, meanwhile, read over O’Fergus’s research and plotted to claim the discovery for himself. He took the notes and formulas home for the weekend and, using them as a model, created his own fiber. He substituted other plant cuticles for the potato polyesters and renamed the fabric “Terylene.” Whinfield filed his own patent application the following Monday morning and *accidentally* mis-laid the application proffered by O’Fergus.
Terylene was hailed as one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century and Whinfleld became famous. The DuPont Corporation purchased the formula for Terylene and the revolutionary fabric, renamed Dacron became a worldwide sensation.
O’Fergus petitioned the patent commission for many years afterward trying to prove that he had come up with the fiber first, but it was no use. Thus, another opportunity for Irish notoriety was lost.