Magazine article America in WWII

A Farmer Who Milked Spiders for Silk

Magazine article America in WWII

A Farmer Who Milked Spiders for Silk

Article excerpt

As America geared up to fight World War II, experimentation was the rule. An energetic search for substitutes for strategic materials led to one of the most inventive periods in American history.

Some ideas were flawed; license plates made from soybeans quickly became meals for hungry dogs. But other ideas were highly successful. Spider silk, used for decades in fine optical instruments, was adapted with great success into the production of war materiel, notably the Norden Bombsight.

The little-known technique of "milking" spiders for silk was first tried in France in 1710, but proved too costly for commercial use. In 1760, however, American David Rittenhouse developed a means of using spider silk strands as crosshairs for optical instruments. His surveying items were used to chart the Mason-Dixon Line. Spider silk provided the highest quality sight lines for telescopes and other instruments during the next century. In the 1930s, spider silk was used by the US Bureau of Standards and by precision-driven companies such as Warner and Swasey.

Obtaining spider silk was difficult and practiced by only a handful of Americans. Two of these people were Dr. John G. Albright, a physicist at Case University in Cleveland, Ohio, and his brother Emil Albright, a farmer in Knox County, Ohio. Dr. John was wrestling with the costly problem of repairing a telescope when, on a walk with Emil around the farm, he saw a blackberry patch glistening in the summer sun. Golden garden spiders had covered their favorite home with their webs. …

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