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Be sure to read my Web article Teflon 2 which explains some of the dangers of exposure to Teflon fumes.

Be sure to check out the DuPont Home Page for information on Teflon, including the annual Plunkett award for inventions using Teflon.

The history of Teflon is described in Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things by Charles Panati (1987 - Harper and Row).

Check out The Science Times section of the New York Times (Tuesday, December 5, 1995) for a description of how they get Teflon to stick to pots and pans.

If nothing sticks to it, how do they get it to stick to the pan?

As you may know, the Guiness Book of World Records lists Teflon as the slipperiest substance on Earth. 

Wheeeeeeee! There's no walking on this stuff. 

Its invention is actually one of those great accidental discoveries in history. 

It was way back on April 6, 1938 that a scientist at DuPont, Dr. Roy Plunkett, made the first batch. 

Plunkett was playing around with different gases in his lab. His goal was to come up with a better coolant gas. 

He left one batch of this gas overnight in a container. When he arrived the next day, the gas was no longer. 

Instead, the container was filled with a waxy solid which he found to be very slippery and impervious to all sorts of corrosive chemicals that usually chew things apart. 

This stuff was tetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a solid version of those dreaded fluorocarbons (freon).

As you can tell, tetrafluoroethylene is not a very catchy name. 

Good old Doc Plunkett came up with an abbreviated name for the stuff - Teflon. 

One would assume the rest is non-stick history. 

Not quite. 

Full-scale commercial production of Teflon did not begin for another ten years - 1948, but was pretty much limited to industrial applications. 

You ask: "So how did it get on my pots and pans?" 

Good question! 

In the early 1950's, a man in Paris, Marc Gregoire, learned of Teflon and devised a way to apply the plastic to his fishing tackle to minimize tangling. His wife conceived of the idea to apply it to pots and pans. 

Gregoire applied the Teflon to one of her frying pans with great success. Within several years, he was selling more than a million Tefal (his trade name for Teflon) coated pans a year. 

Yet, no one in America had ever seen one of these pans. 

One day, a UPI reporter named Thomas Hardie went to visit a friend who had just returned from Paris. Tom was amazed by his friend's non-stick pan. 

Hardie immediately saw a market for these pot and pans in the U.S. and contacted Marc Gregoire. For two years, Hardie tried to sell the idea to every major manufacturer of cooking utensils in the U.S.. 

Surprisingly, no company wanted to sell the pots. 

He then arranged to import 3,000 of the pans. He sent them to all the major department stores. 

Again, no store was interested. 

Eventually, he convinced a buyer at Macy's Herald Square to take 200 pans. Macy's sold all 200 within 2 days (in the middle of one of the biggest snowstorms). 

Now everyone wanted them. 

Unfortunately, Hardie couldn't make the pots fast enough. By the time he built a manufacturing plant in the U.S., every other pot and pan manufacturer was making their own. 

The rest is Teflon pot and pan history. 

Which leads to the question: If nothing sticks to Teflon, how do they get it to stick to the pan? 

Originally it didn't stick well - you had to use special utensils or the Teflon would chip off. 

Today, they roughen the pan's surface by sandblasting it. A primer is applied to the surface and then the Teflon is embedded in the primer. 

The idea is quite simple - the Teflon won't chemically bond to anything else, but you can mechanically get it stuck in small cracks and crevasses. 

Think of it this way: if you get stuck in a house without doors or windows, you cannot get out through a mouse hole. You're mechanically stuck in there (no matter how slippery you may be). 

Useless?  Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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Teflon is a registered trademark of DuPont.  DuPont has asked that all references to Teflon be removed from this web site.  Of course,  that would be in violation of our guaranteed freedom of speech.