Cotton Incorporated research pioneer John Turner to retire

Dr. John Turner, senior chemist at Cotton Incorporated, is retiring and leaving a legacy of achievements that continues to benefit both U.S. cotton growers and consumers across the globe.

“If there is any doubt about the impact that Dr. Turner has had on the apparel industry, just try and find a pair of men's khaki pants that's not treated with wrinkle-resistant technology — a technology made commercially practical by Dr. Turner,” says J. Berrye Worsham, president and CEO of Cotton Incorporated.

Working for Cotton Incorporated since 1971, Turner's May 1, retirement date brings an end to one of the most successful research careers in the history of the Cotton Research and Promotion Program.

At the beginning of his career, the concept of “durable press” (wrinkle resistance) was only considered realistic for synthetic fibers. “When I joined Cotton Incorporated, cotton consumption was at an all-time low in the apparel area,” said Turner.

When cotton's market share scraped bottom, somewhere around 34 percent, the challenge became to increase consumer interest in cotton. Turner answered that challenge by creating a wrinkle resistant finish for cotton shirts.

Consumer preference for natural fibers returned by the late '70s, but it took several more years for wrinkle-resistant technology to make its way into the pants market. When it did, it took off. According to data from STS Market Research, cotton holds a 61 percent share of 100 percent cotton men's slacks apparel category, on a unit basis, for 2001.

Dr Turner also left his mark on the agricultural research side of the tracks as well. “When we first started research to improve cottonseed's handling characteristics, John suggested various compounds that were being used to reduce the fuzziness buildup that occurs during the weaving of cotton yarn” says Tom Wedegaertner, director, Cottonseed Research and Marketing for Cotton Incorporated.

“His suggestion to try a combination of starch and hot water worked and ended up as the best and easiest solution,Turner also created a process to test cotton stickiness — still a potential problem for textile mills today. “The test involves spraying an aerosol compound on cotton fiber, covering it with saran wrap and microwaving it for a short period,” says Turner. A U.S. company is manufacturing and selling this aerosol spray still today.

Turner also created and was awarded a patent for the first spray that was eventually used to identify seed cotton modules. Preston Sasser, senior vice president and managing director of research at Cotton Incorporated's World Headquarters, collaborated with Turner in the late '70s and remembers that researchers “had a problem with the spray paint growers were using to identify modules as they made their way from the field to the textile mill.”

Turner's ability to see through complex problems led to the development of a compound that would not bleed off in the rain but could be easily removed from cotton fibers during textile processing.

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