Charles Goodyear was born in New Haven, Connecticut on December 29, 1800 to Amasa and Cynthia Goodyear. Charles’s father was a hardware manufacture and a merchant.
Amasa Goodyear built mainly farming tools like hayforks and scythes, which he invented. When Charles was a teenager he wanted to go into the ministry and become a pastor, but his father convinced him that he was a good business man and placed him in the hardware store of the Rogers brothers in Philadelphia at the age of seventeen.
He worked there until he was twenty-one years old. At that time he returned to New Haven to join his father’s business, making farm tools.
For five years he worked for his father, building up the family business. On August 24, 1824, while he was still working for his father he married Clarissa Beecher who also lived in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1826 Charles Goodyear decided to move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There he opened a hardware store where he sold the products that his father made.
Four years after opening this store both Amasa and Charles Goodyear were bankrupt because they would extend credit to customers and the customers would never pay back the money that they owed. Charles’s health started to decline and both father and son owed tens of thousands of dollars. For the next thirty years Charles Goodyear was thrown in prison over ten times because he didn’t pay his debts. In 1834 when he was in New York, on a business trip, the Roxbury India Rubber Company caught his eye.
He decided to go inside the store and take a look around. While he was in the store he saw an India rubber valve on one of the products in the store. He thought that a better valve on a product of his father’s might help them pay off some of their debt. He decided to make a better valve with Indian rubber.
A few days later he showed it to the manager of the Roxbury India Rubber Company, who was very impressed with valve, but the manager didn’t encourage it because he was afraid that Goodyear might come up with a better type of rubber that didn’t melt and get sticky in the summer like India rubber did. Getting a boost of confidence when he went back to Philadelphia, he decided to start experimenting with India rubber. He did his first testing in jail, because immediately upon his return he was put in jail for another debt. The India rubber market was beginning to fail because the rubber would melt in the summer heat, therefore it would cost him almost nothing to buy the rubber.
His first try in making rubber better, he combined gum elastic with the India rubber, but when summer came his rubber reacted in the same as the India rubber. The year of 1836 Charles Goodyear had no encouraging results. With the things that he did make out of India rubber (which were failures to making a better type of rubber) they were sold to pawn shops to produce some income. Friends and family would give him money so that he could keep his rubber research going.
In 1837 Goodyear devised a process in which he coated the India rubber with metal and acid (this is only part of the vulcanization process). On June 17, 1837 he got patent No. 240. In 1837 he moved to Roxbury, Massachusetts, where the India rubber business was started.
The India rubber business had rebounded, but only selling limited products. There he met E.M. Chaffee, who invented India rubber and John Haskins, one of the factory managers.
They saw some of his work and allowed him to rent a small portion of the factory and use their machinery. There in the winter of 1837-38 he sold shoes, piano covers, and tablecloths utilizing his new process. In winter of 1838 he met a man named Nathaniel M. Hayward who was about to patent his discovery in which he put sulfur on rubber to eliminate the stickiness of the rubber.
Goodyear hired Hayward to go more in depth with the experiment using sulfur with India rubber. Jointly they discovered that if they mixed sulfur and oil of turpentine together and then added Goodyear’s acid and metal coating, this produced a rubber that didn’t melt in the hot weather. This process is called vulcanization. They discovered this when they were arguing one day and they spilled the mixture on a stove.
It didn’t melt it, only burned a little. On February 24, 1839 they got their patent for rubber. By himself, Goodyear investigated into rubber more and discovered how to make “soft rubber” and “hard rubber”. Finally, the process was perfect, and Goodyear got the celebrated Patent No.
3,633 on June 15, 1844. Now that he has these patents, you would think that he would be rich, but Goodyear was never able to pay off his debts, so he was obligated to sell licenses and patents for under market value. Now that the rubber industry was well established in the United States he decided to go over to Europe in countries like Germany, France, and Great Britain to expand on his business and maybe make some money. He was in Europe for over 5 years showing exhibits of rubber made products like jewelry, floor coverings, books, and furniture.
On July 1, 1860 he died, in a New York hotel room, morning the death of one of his daughters. When he died he left his widow and six children with a debt of approximately two hundred thousand dollars! Without Goodyear’s discovery where would we be today? We would still have wood or stone tires. In the summer the soles of our shoes would stick to the pavement and we would never be able to erase on a paper when we made a mistake. It would be a lot more difficult without rubber and the process of vulcanization.
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