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Ruth Benerito, inventor of permanent press cotton, dies

07 Oct, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 7 (UPI) — Ruth Benerito, a chemist widely credited with having invented wrinkle-free cotton, died Saturday at her Louisiana home, associates said. She was 97.

Benerito was working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans in the late 1950s and early 1960s, trying to devise a type of cotton that wouldn’t wrinkle after every washing, The New York Times said.

Benerito’s process replaced the weak hydrogen molecules that bind together the cotton polymer with more durable agents, preventing the cotton polymers from breaking during washes. The result was a cotton blend that required little or no ironing — and that was more durable over time — saving consumers both effort and money.

The advent of what would become known as permanent press cotton was something of a holy grail in the agricultural chemistry field and while Benerito was widely credited with having invented it, she always remained steadfast she was only part of a larger effort involving many researchers.

“I don’t like it to be said that I invented wash-wear, because there were any number of people working on it, and there are various processes by which you give cotton those properties,” she said in 2004 during a video produced by the USDA about her accomplishments. “No one person discovered it or was responsible for it. But I contributed to new processes of doing it.”

Benerito’s husband, who she married in 1950, died in 1970. She had no immediate family. Her death was announced by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, to which she was inducted in 2008.

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