What did ADL do? I hear you ask. Well, they researched. And they developed. And they created products and goods and were real geniuses about the whole darn thing. For example, BIC Pens approached them in the early 1980s after Gillette (another local favorite) had developed and patented a ballpoint pen with erasable ink. BIC (or was it BiC?) was rather jealous of this newfangled innovation in ballpoint scrawling, and asked ADL to develop the same technology, but without stepping on any of Gillette's patents. So they did.
Maybe that example is a little too dry for you. Maybe you'd prefer something way cooler, ye who have been rendered slightly jaded thanks to Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. Well, okay. In 1921, engineers at ADL rose to the challenge issued by their company's founder and made a silk purse out of a sow's ear:
The chemists' first step was to observe the production of silk by silkworms, analyzing both the process and the product. They found that the viscous liquid emitted from ducts in the worm's head turned to silk after contact with air and that it was chemically akin to glue. Following this lead, the lab purchased one hundred pounds of sows' ears (certified to be authentic by an affidavit from the supplier, Wilson & Company, meatpackers in Chicago) and reduced it to ten pounds of glue, which was turned to gelatin by adding small amounts of chrome alum and acetone. After much trial and error the chemists hit upon a means of producing fine strands by filtering the gelatin under pressure and forcing the substance through a perforated spinneret. The resulting brittle strands, softened by bathing in a glycerin solution, were dried, dyed, and woven into cloth of "the desired soft, silky feel." From this cloth two ten-inch long "silk" purses were cut and stitched in imitation of a medieval design, used for holding silver coins in one end, and gold in the other.Myth busted.
In the same entry, Irv Arons also tells the story of a challenge issued in 1977 to create a lead balloon that didn't, well, sink like a lead balloon. I'll leave you to find out if they were able to make a true lead balloon fly, but I'll give you a hint: Logan Airport's Air Traffic Control had to get involved.
This is wonderful stuff and I'ma keep reading it for as long as Irv has stories.