The Polyester Hero

May 3rd, 2007

Herman B. Goldstein, a textile chemist who liberated housewives everywhere by inventing the permanent-press fabric treatment, died Jan. 23, at the age of eighty-two. He never made a dime from his discovery.

In his lab at Sun Chemical Corp., Goldstein developed a formula for a solution that, when first applied to fabrics in 1962, stopped them from wrinkling. One of the great annoyances of doing laundry at home had been overcome; sales of washers and dryers soon boomed, as women were freed from hours spent at the ironing board. Because the wrinkle-free treatment was most successful in blends of cotton and synthetic fabrics, the process also boosted the popularity and sales of polyester fiber.

Though the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists awarded Goldstein the 1985 Millson Award for Invention, it was Sun Chemical who raked in the permanent-press profits. Goldstein took all of this in stride. “It doesn’t bother me that I didn’t benefit directly,” he once told a reporter. “When you’re employed as a scientist, they don’t owe you for your discoveries. It’s your job.”

Nevertheless, Goldstein was an unlikely hero to many women, including the late humor columnist Erma Bombeck, who devoted a 1981 column to him: “Every Monday every woman in America washed and every Tuesday she ironed. And Wednesday. And Thursday. And Friday,” Bombeck wrote. “Then came Mr. Goldstein and it was goodbye steam iron. Goodbye scorch marks... We were free at last.”

Goldstein, who lived in Charlotte, N.C., retired from Sun Chemical in 1985 as vice president of the chemicals division. He then founded HBG Export Corp., and later became a consultant. He held twenty patents and wrote many technical papers.

An avid gardener and painter of landscapes and seascapes, Goldstein was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi. He is survived by his wife, Myrtle, 5800 Old Providence Rd., #4211, Charlotte, N.C. 28226; a son; a daughter; and a brother, Sidney ’32.

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July / August 2000