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She Conquered Wrinkles … in Cotton Fabric

If you grabbed a cotton dress shirt out of the dryer this morning and put it on without ironing it, you probably should be thanking a chemist named Ruth Benerito.

Inventor Ruth Benerito in labIn the mid-1960s, Benerito and two colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture developed and patented a process for chemically cross-linking and reinforcing the chains of cellulose molecules in cotton fibers, which enabled them to stay in place under the stress of washing and wear. The “wrinkle-free” garments that manufacturers produced using Benerito’s process helped to rescue a U.S. cotton industry threatened by the popularity of synthetic fabrics such as Du Pont’s “wash and wear” polyester.

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More important, Benerito enabled us to keep wearing comfortable, fashionable classic cotton garments without looking as we’d slept in them.

Here are some fascinating facts about Benerito, who died on October 5 at age 97 in Metairie, La.:


Here’s a 2002 interview with Benerito, on the occasion of her receiving the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award:

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