In 1938, a chemist working in a DuPont laboratory found that the refrigerant gases he'd left in a tank had mysteriously been replaced by a very slippery and highly heat-resistant substance—polytetrafluoroethylene resin.
This resin would soon become famous, and considerably easier to say, as Teflon. Its popularity as a stick-resistant cooking surface has given the word another sense too.
The figurative sense originated when Congresswoman Pat Schroeder was cooking eggs for her children and thought of dubbing Ronald Reagan "the Teflon President"—to whom no criticism would stick.
During that same era, mobster boss John Gotti (shown here) was nicknamed the "Teflon Don" for slickly avoiding serious criminal charges. When Gotti was finally convicted on thirteen counts including murder, the head of the New York City FBI office announced, "The Teflon is gone. The don is covered with Velcro, and every charge stuck."
(As it relates to fluorine-based polymer derivatives, Teflon® is a registered trademark of E.I. du Pont Nemours and Company.)
Photo: Kyrion / flickr