Parachute cord is the suspension lines for a parachute. It is historically associated with the Airborne part of the military.
Parachute cord was made to exact specifications. It was a nylon kernmantle rope. Kernmantle is German meaning an inner core protected by an outer sheath. Parachute cord was made of 100% nylon. It has a 32 strand woven outer sheath with 7 - 3ply cabled inner strands, a 550 pound minimum breaking strength and a minimum of 30% elongation or stretch. The military designation for ordering this cord was MIL-C-5040H type III. It got the nicknames 550 cord or paracord from its break strength and a shorter version of parachute cord. Many names are associated with parachute cord and include 550 cord, paracord, para cord (mis spelled), mil spec paracord, mil spec cord, mil spec 550 paracord, mil spec 550 parachute cord and paracord 550.
Nylon was used for several reasons. It is extremely strong for its weight and resists mildew, rot and UV light. Its stretch or elongation ability was also important.
I'm not sure if the original parachute cord from World War II had an identifying marker strand as one of the 7 - 3ply strands of the inner core. I do know it has been and is required now. Some manufactures put an identifier strand in their cord and claim it is Mil Spec. The cord has to have the 7 - 3ply strands that can be unraveled, 100% nylon, 550 pound break strength and made by a government certified contractor to be Mil Spec. You can also ask for the CFC certificate for mil spec cord.
The term paracord is now used very loosely and covers a variety of cord. Paracord labeled with Type III MIL-C-5040H is still made by U.S. contractors to government specifications. It is the real deal. These same contractors make what they call Type III paracord that is not to the exact government specifications. This cord still has a 32 strand woven outer sheath with 7 - 2ply cabled inner strands and a 550 pound minimum break strength. Most of this cord is made of nylon/nylon meaning outer shell and inner strands are all nylon. Other manufactures of the Type III cord with a 550 pound break strength use poly/nylon which is a polyester outer shell and nylon inner strands. From there you can get all types of outer sheaths and inner cores that form a lesser quality cord combination called paracord by many manufactures. Look for either the true military Type III MIL-C-5040H or the commercial Type III cord. The commercial Type III cord is less expensive, has the same strength, and is available in hundreds of colors and patterns.
Under the military designation MIL-S-5040H there were other sizes of cord, or paracord types, both smaller and larger. Today the word paracord has come to mean all of them with the 550 Cord being the most common.
This cord eventually became the main cordage used by all branches of the military. It was used wherever cord or rope was needed. For example, shoe laces, hanging camouflage nets, tying items to packs or packs to vehicle racks and for survival. The inner strands can be removed from the core of the paracord. They can be used in their cabled form or unwound into individual strands. These strands can be used for fishing line, dental floss, sewing thread, emergency sutures and tying or whipping the end of a larger rope, to name a few things.
Parachute cord or paracord as it is commonly known now was introduced to the general public after World War II. It, like so many items from World War II, started showing up in military surplus stores. The public liked it just as much as the military did. Manufactures continued to make cord for the military but saw an opportunity in the cord industry. This is where the Type III commercial cord started. The military only had a handfull of designated colors. With this new and slightly different version of paracord more solid colors and patterns began to be made.
Somewhere along the way some of the military personnel started to make paracord bracelets. I'm sure it helped passed the time on slow days or off hours. It was fun and had a real purpose. Wearing a paracord bracelet was an easy way to have some of this cord with you at all times. Different weaves and knots were used for the bracelets. Eventually this idea caught on with the survivalists, Preppers (emergency preparedness) and every day carry (EDC) people as a survival bracelet. From there bracelet making went to the public. Paracord sales exploded. Colors and patterns of paracord were becoming more and more available. Every kind of knot, weave, bead, charm, and buckle was used to make a bracelet.
Bracelets are still popular but the expansion of items that could be made with paracord was discovered. Paracord dog leashes, necklaces, belts, gun slings, whips, toys, figurines, crafts, bottle holders, wallets, symbols like a cross or breast cancer ribbon, dream catchers, keychains, handle wraps, lanyards, and of course repairs are just some of the things to do with paracord.
M. Shane Sullivan, Owner/Manager of Paracordgalaxy.com