Charles Goodyear was the oldest of six children and his ancestors were some of the founders of the initial New Haven colony in 1638. Goodyear didn’t initially intend to be an inventor. He actually moved to Philadelphia to learn the hardware business before returning home to work in a partnership with his father’s business. After some time, he started his own family and began his own hardware store back in Philadelphia.
Goodyear is primarily known for his two inventions that are still in use today. Let’s take a look at both of them.
The Vulcanization of Rubber
The primary invention of Charles Goodyear came about when he walked into a rubber store to try to show the manager a valve he had created to work with rubber life preservers. The manager rejected the idea and showed him why: there were piles of melted rubber just lying about because the rubber products couldn’t stand up to heat. It wasn’t just heat that made rubber a problem for people either as it would become as hard as a rock in the cold of winter.
Goodyear found himself in jail because of his debt and at one point; his family was living in an abandoned rubber factory living off of the fish he was able to catch in the local harbor. At this point, however, he had discovered that applying nitric acid to rubber gum gave it a different texture and feel. Over the years, while fighting his failing health and living in poverty, he discovered that heat and sulphur changed rubber even more significantly.
An Improvement in the Preparation of Caoutchouc
One of the ways that Goodyear was able to convince people to begin using his rubber products was that the vulcanization process he had discovered would replicate the male fashions of the time, but do so with a waterproof fabric. Through the application of various acidic solutions that would saturate the rubber, he could even coat cloth with the rubber to then make it waterproof. This preparation is still used today to create rubber-based plastics that are used in the food production industry.
The problem that Goodyear had after getting his invention out into the public was that there were many who attempted to profit off of his invention. These “rubber pirates,” as they were called, often had to be taken to the Supreme Court to have his patent upheld and have a cease and desist order enforced. At one point, Goodyear had to pay a lawyer $15k to argue before the Supreme Court on his behalf, which was the largest fee ever paid to a law professional at the time.
Although some believe that other populations in history first invented the process to vulcanize rubber, Charles Goodyear is widely regarded as the man who invented the process and his name is still seen every day. For a man who was lectured about the fact that he couldn’t even feed his children and was jailed once over a $5 hotel bill, his legacy is one that will always be remembered.
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