Every Wednesday morning in Wilmington (Del.), home town of E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., a score-odd lingerie shops and department stores put on sale new shipments of nylon stockings. As soon as the doors are open Wilmington women rush in like so many hens at feed time. And though each customer must tell her name, give a Wilmington address, and buy no more than three pairs, nightfall finds few pairs of nylon hose left on store shelves anywhere in Wilmington.
Nylon hose (made by independent mills from Du Pont synthetic fibre) cost $1.15, $1.25 and $1.35 a pair, according to gauge. One reason Wilmington women like them is because only Wilmington women can buy them. Impressive to the stocking trade, however, is the way nylon has sold out weekly for four months, even though good pure silk branded stockings can be had in Wilmington for only $1 a pair.
Some branded silk hosiery used to cost only 79¢. But almost the only ones at that price now have cotton tops and toes. For no stocking-maker can long sell pure silk hose for 79¢ if the price of raw silk is much above $2 a pound. Year ago January, when the price was as low as $1.83, Japanese silk speculators started a squeeze. Raw silk climbed fast all year (TIME, Nov. 6), last month stood at a ten-year high of $4.38.
In operation already, in Seaford, Del., is Du Font's $8,000,000 nylon plant, which can make nylon enough for some 10% of women's full-fashioned hose knitted in the U. S. And soon abuilding will be extensions to increase this capacity. In May, Holeproof, Phoenix, Gotham, Van Raalte, other big hosiery mills will start national sales of nylon hose. If nylon sells nationally as well as it sells in Wilmington, Japan stands to lose something like $10,000,000 of her purchasing power in the U. S. Japan's sales to the U. S. in 1939's first eleven months were $142,280,250, of which some 65% was silk.
Last month the Japanese Government stopped pretending the silk squeeze was an act of God, ordered banks to stop lending for speculation and scared silk dealers by hinting that they might soon have to report all their transactions. Down tumbled the price of raw silk, sold last week in New York City at $3.17½ per pound. Best guess is that when raw silk costs $3, silk yarn and nylon yarn cost about the same. Thus, to compete with long-wearing nylon, silk will probably have to go lower than $3. Nothing would encourage nascent nylon more than for the Japanese to hold their silk close, keep on selling it dearly.