Charles Goodyear (1800-1860)

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Charles Goodyear was born on December 29, 1800 in New Haven Connecticut. He had little schooling. Upon finishing school he went to work with his father was became unsuccessful causing him to look elsewhere. So he did and he began to work on improvements for rubber. Rubber was then a natural blend of substances from trees in Brazil. At this time though it was a unstable product that became brittle in the winter and soft in the summer when it was hot.

In the summer of 1834 Goodyear traveled to New York to propose a new valve for rubber life preserves to a manger of the India Rubber Co. The manager however rejected it saying that the rubber craze was now over. People now knew that rubber was unstable in extreme temperatures. This resulted in poor sales of rubber and therefore the manager saw no need for any investment in such a valve.

Upon Goodyear's return to Philadelphia he was arrested for debt and placed in jail. It was here that he did some of his very first experiments on rubber he asked this wife to bring him a batch of raw rubber and her rolling pin from her kitchen. There in his cell he spent much time rolling the rubber with the rolling pin and kneading it. He thought about rubber's natural trait of being sticky and wondered if mixing a powder of some kind with it would absorb the stickiness.

When he got out of jail he tried his experiment and got promising results. He mixed the talc-like magnesia powder with rubber. Happy with the results he and his wife made several magnesia dried rubber shoes. By summer though his shoe he had worked so hard on turned to paste. Also neighbors began to complain about the smell from his experiments with rubber. Goodyear then moved to New York to continue his experiments.

Now in New York he was adding two drying agents to the rubber with promising results. It was so promising that a New York trade show awarded him a medal. Goodyear continued make samples but now was decorating them by painting them. One day however, he ran out of rubber so he decided to reuse an old one. But first he had to remove the paint he had applied to it. He used nitric acid to remove the paint and when he did so it gave him the impression that he had ruined the rubber so he tossed it in the garbage. The next day however, he reached into the garbage can and retrieved the rubber and noticed the acid had made the rubber dry and smooth. Interest in Goodyear's product rose again.

A New York businessman was now interested in Goodyear's product. He invested several thousand dollars to begin production on Goodyear's new product. Everything seemed to be going in the right direction finally but that would be short lived. The financial panic of 1837 had now taken out the businessman and his business once again leaving Goodyear with nothing. He now was living in the abandoned rubber factory with his family living off fish from the harbor.

Goodyear however was about to once again enjoy a short moment of accomplishment. He had received a contract to produce 150 mailbags with his new rubber product. So he went on producing the mail bags. When he finished he stored the bags in a warm room sure that nothing would happen to them and left for vacation. Upon his return he found the bags had melted like so many other times before. Goodyear had once again fell from possible prosperity. Goodyear now was almost finished. He moved to Woburn, Massachusetts and his family was living off the donations of farmers.

In 1939 however, Goodyear decided to add sulfur to the rubber now. When he did so it is said that when he applied heat to the rubber accidentally be dropping it on a stove made it dry and hard like leather. He had finally made weatherproof rubber. This has been called one of history's most acknowledged accidents. But once again there were bad days ahead for Goodyear and his family.

That winter Goodyear became ill. However he continued his experiments. He continued to test the rubbers integrity against heat by heating it every way possible to his imagination. In order to keep caring for his family he began to pawn off items of value which he possessed. But soon there was nothing left to pawn. Life once again was getting tough for Goodyear.

Goodyear decided to take a trip to Boston to reunite with some friends. But he came up empty when no one was to be found that he new. His misfortune continued when he was jailed for not paying a $5 dollar hotel bill. When he returned home he found that his infant son had died. Goodyear was unable to pay for funeral so he buried the child himself. Goodyear though continued to try to market his product through all the grief.

Goodyear started to make anything and everything out of rubber. He made many household items out of rubber from plates to hats you could wear on your head. He really kind of looked at rubber as we look at plastic today. He saw the possibility of everything being made of rubber. He struggled the rest of his life trying to market his product and fighting off people who wanted to copy his product. Goodyear died in 1860 after dedicating most of his life to creating a strong weatherproof rubber. However, by the time he died he was nearly $200,000 in debt.