Wallace Hume Carotheres was an inventor, chemist, and the leader of organic chemistry at DuPont in the 1930s.
He invented the first iteration of neoprene, synthetic silk, several polyamides, and most notably, nylon which was invented on February 28, 1935.
I wanted to use this as a famous love affair, but alas, it isn’t one. So, we’re a day late with this one and regardless of that, I think you’ll find it interesting.
Hired away from Harvard to DuPont, he told them, “I suffer from neurotic spells of diminished capacity which might constitute a much more serious handicap there than here.” They hired him anyway, and doubled his $3200 a year professor’s salary.
In 1931, he moved into a house in Wilmington, Delaware – where most of the scientific research was going on – with three other scientists from DuPont.
It was quickly dubbed “Whiskey Acres.”
His depressive moods often prevented him from enjoying the parties his roommates threw.
It was about this time he started carrying a capsule of cyanide attached to his watch chain.
Really, HR should have noticed that, but he was a chemist after all, so “no biggie?”
Sometime in 1931, he began an affair with Sylvia Moore, a married woman. A messy divorce ensued. At the same time, the old boy began to worry about his aging parents and insisted they move East from Iowa. With no thought of the impact on them, he bought a place in Arden and moved them and himself in.
Even though he was 37, things with mom and dad became tense. Seems they didn’t approve of his affair, and after three short years, dad called Suddath and moved back to Des Moines.
Having lost interest in Sylvia and with no folks to look after, the old boy turned back to his first love: science.
Using terms I’ve avoided since Mr. Hamm’s Chemistry class back at VVHS, he threw himself into diamines, glycols, polymers, polyamides, hydrogen bonding – during this period, he vanished. No call, no show, no one knew where he was. He had checked himself into the Pinel Clinic in Baltimore. He was so depressed he sought out a psychiatrist who was so alarmed he convinced him to enter the clinic for treatment.
Meanwhile, everyone at DuPont and most assuredly Sylvia were lost for clues.
After a brief stay, he returned to DuPont where he was welcomed with open arms, and began shaking things UP in the polymer lab.
Sylvia was nowhere to be found, she’d had enough of the crazy.
On 2/21/1936, Wallace married Helen Sweetman whom he’d been dating on the sly. She had a bachelor’s degree with a major in chemistry, worked for DuPont, and well, they could connect.
Following his marriage and his discovery of nylon, he was honored and feted on a regular basis. The first industrial organic chemist to Elected to the National Academy of Sciences, things were looking UP for the old boy.
But, inside, not so much; he couldn’t shake the depression and in early June with complete debilitation setting in, he was admitted involuntarily to the Philadelphia Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital, a prestigious mental ward. Dr. Kenneth Appel feeling after one month that progress had been made allowed him to check out and go hiking in the Tyrolean Alps with friends, two scientists, Dr. Roger Adams and Dr. John Flack.
After two weeks, Adams and Flack headed home and Carothers stayed on. He didn’t bother to let anyone back home know his plan. Not even the “little woman.”
One month later, he showed UP at work, no announcement, no explanation, nada.
His mental health had declined such that no one at the Experimental Station expected him to work. He breezed in and out, offering little.
Meanwhile, his wife decided she was too frail to care for him and he moved back to Whiskey Acres.
On April 28, 1937, he went to the Experimental Station to work, and everyone except his doctor thought he was on the mend.
The following day he checked into a hotel in Philadelphia, placed the cyanide capsule in lemon juice knowing the acidic solution would intensify the speed of the poison, and drank it.
He was dead within minutes.
No note was found.
This gals, is the guy who made pantyhose possible; you knew it had to be a mad scientist, right?