Carbon fibers are older than you imagine! The first carbon fibers date back to 1860! In 1879, a certain guy named Thomas Edison chose carbon fibers to manufacture light bulb filaments. At that time, they were not petroleum-based. Instead, they were produced through the pyrolysis of cotton or bamboo filaments. These filaments were ”baked” at high temperatures to cause carbonization to take place.
But why were they chosen? The answer is pretty straightforward and has nothing to do with high strength! At the time, Edison noticed that their high heat tolerance made them ideal electrical conductors. However, soon later tungsten took over as the light bulb filament of choice in the early 1900s, and carbon fiber became obsolete for the next 50 years or so.
During the 1960s, a Japanese researcher named Akio Shindo, manage to manufacture carbon fibers using PAN as a precursor. This way, his team was able to achieve a filament that had ~55% carbon, using a much more cost-effective production method. This new technology allowed for the resurgence of carbon fibers, but this time, they were here to stay!