TUFNOL - From 1940 to 1960

As more and more designers grew aware of the advantages of lightness, strength and wear resistance, TUFNOL materials were used for many new applications in aircraft, motor vehicles, electrical machinery and military engineering. They became important to such an extent that, during World War II, the TUFNOL factory was clothed in camouflage netting and placed under the control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Output soared to produce thousands of components for the Allied war effort. Ninety percent of total production went into service aircraft, naval vessels and military equipment and it was said that, every time a Lancaster Bomber roared across the tarmac, a thousand TUFNOL parts went with it. TUFNOL was even supplied, for example, to Bletchley Park, where Kite Brand was used in the 'Bombe' equipment built to help decode messages from the German 'Enigma' machine. Tufnol Composites Ltd has recently donated more Kite Brand TUFNOL material, to help with a restoration project (see note 1 below).

Fitting Tufnol propeller shaft bearings to the liner SS Canberra
The P & O luxury liner SS Canberra.
Fitting Tufnol to the propeller
shaft bearings at the Harland
& Wolf Shipyards.

One new grade which was introduced in the late 1940s is called 'Bear Brand TUFNOL' and this material literally took the TUFNOL name around the world. Ordinary seawater acts as an excellent lubricant for cotton grades and Bear Brand TUFNOL was used for rudder bearings and propeller shaft bearings for hundreds of large ocean-going vessels.

Bear Brand TUFNOL bearings were used for this purpose by over 50 million tonnes of shipping, including the flagship vessels of the P & O and Cunard luxury fleets, the 'SS Canberra' and 'RMS Queen Elizabeth 2' (the 'QE2'), providing TUFNOL with especially prestigious orders for their bearings. Rush orders for TUFNOL bearings began to be sent all around the world.

The Brand Signs of TUFNOL

In 1944 the company name was changed from Ellison Insulations Ltd to 'TUFNOL Ltd'. The sign incorporating the various brand names was used as the face of a large clock at the TUFNOL factory, which became a well-known landmark in north Birmingham.

In 1944, an extraordinary exhibition was held in one of the Ellison factories in Birmingham to show to the workers and their families what an important contribution they had made to the war effort. A wide range of wartime equipment was put on display demonstrating the many uses of Tufnol parts and Ellison switchgear. See photographs of this event here.

The 1950s was a period of ongoing development and growth for TUFNOL, which continued to pioneer the way for engineering plastics, replacing 'traditional' materials in many areas of industry. TUFNOL was well marketed with export agencies set up in over 50 countries around the world large and innovative publicity and exhibition displays at engineering exhibitions in London and elsewhere.

The QEII had Tufnol propeller shaft bearings
The main propeller shafts of
the QE II used Tufnol water-
lubricated bearings.

However, it was during this time that other plastics really started to develop as competitors to laminates. Economical moulding techniques were developed for thermoplastics and plastic goods started to be much more widely used for many ordinary things around the home, from toys to buckets and 'Biros'. In engineering, it also became clear that nylon materials had great potential and would present a serious future competitor to TUFNOL. Fortunately, new types of synthetic resins were also becoming available, which enabled TUFNOL to greatly expand its range of grades over the next few years.

Next page - TUFNOL from 1960 to 1980

Note 1. See www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/visit/whattosee/BombeRebuildProject.rhtm or try googling 'Bombe Rebuild Project'