Wrinkle free cotton? Believe it or not, there is such a thing, thanks to inventor and chemist, Ruth Benerito.
Ruth Rogan Benerito was born January 12, 1916 and raised in New Orleans. She completed high school at age 14 and entered Tulane University in New Orleans at age 15 to study chemistry, graduating during the Great Depression. She continued her education while working as a teacher, and took night classes to earn her master’s degree from Tulane University. During World War II she taught college classes, and earned her doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Chicago after the war. In 1950 she married Frank Benerito, and went to work at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, where she worked for over 35 years.
In 1953 Benerito found a way to chemically treat the surface of cotton that led not only to wrinkle-resistant fabric but also to stain and flame-resistant fabrics. The chemical treatment minimizes wrinkles and gives a smooth appearance to the fabric, without reducing the breathability, absorbency, and comfort of the cotton.
Throughout her career, Benerito was credited with 55 patents and many honors, including the Garvan Medal from the American Chemical Society in 1970 and the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 at the age of 86. She was also listed in the 1992-1993 edition of American Men and Women of Science.
Her husband, Frank, died in 1970. Ruth retired from the USDA in 1986 but continued to teach part time at Tulane and the University of New Orleans until 1997. She is currently retired in her home town of New Orleans.