Rayon was the first manufactured(regenerated) fiber. In 1855, George Audemars, a swiss chemist, discovered how to make cellulose nitrate. In 1884, Count Hilaire de Chardonnet made the first man made fibers from nitrocellulose. He is referred to as the "father of rayon". Chardonnet got the original French patent, and established the world's first rayon factory. From here other scientists developed more cost effective ways of making other types of rayon.
In 1892 C.F. Cross, E.J. Bevan and Clayton Beadle took out a patent for Viscose which became the basis for the viscose, rayon and cellophane industries. The first patent for "art silk" occurred in 1894 tho it took until 1910 for the first US commercial rayon production to begin. The textile industry switched from calling it "art silk" to rayon in 1924.
The basics of its production are cellulose (often from trees) which is converted into a soluble compound.
|An example of a spinneret|
|Close up of a Rayon fabric|
Most rayon in the present day can be machine washed and tumble dried. It wrinkles easily but a light steam can remedy this. It is more absorbant then cotton, soft, comfortable to wear, drapes well and is easily dyed in a multitude of colours.
If you want to learn a bit more about early Rayon production the following movie is approx. 30 minutes.