119 Years of Trust Fact File THE TRIBUNE
Saturday Plus
Saturday, February 20, 1999




Charles Goodyear
By Illa Vij

AMASA Goodyear was born in an age which gave ample chance to acquire wealth and fame to any man with an inventive mind. Spoons, pitch-forks, clocks, button etc — Amasa tried to improve everything around him. His house bristled with new and unfamiliar things. When the American army fought a war in 1872, soldiers wore uniforms that had buttons invented by Amasa Goodyear. Amasa’s son, Charles, was born in New Haven in 1800. The father did not know that years later Charles Goodyear would be known the world over for vulcanisation of rubber, a process that makes it resistant to heat and cold.

By the age of 16 years, Charles was a slender lad, inclined towards religion. He wanted to be a minister of religion and was the least interested in business or money-making. But Amasa insisted that his son must help him in his small factory near Naugautuk. Thus, began Charles’ career as an inventor. Father and son, together invented small things, produced them, and Charles sold them. Earlier hardware goods were sold by carrying them around in backpacks or by travelling in horse-drawn wagons.

At the age of 26, Charles decided to set up a hardware shop in New Haven, the first in the USA. Soon the idea was emulated by many. The shop did well, but Charles’ disinterest in money-matters brought in an economic crisis. Deep in debts, as the law stated, Charles had to undergo imprisonment. He was interested in making a new invention, not money. One morning in 1834, Charles Goodyear, walking through the streets of Boston, saw a placard that stated ‘Rubberised Clothing’. The shop belonged to Roxbury India Rubber Company. He met the director of the company and assured him that he could improve the rubber, water proof clothing. The company asked him to go ahead with his plans but before Charles could take a leap ahead, the company failed. Rubber was unable to withstand hot weather. It melted, and the smell that developed was quite offensive. Cold weather had the rubber cracking. The first heat wave in America caused the rubber company’s bankruptcy. Charles left the company and debts again were responsible for putting him behind bars. Charles, being optimistic, found the prison cell a good place to experiment on rubber. There, no creditors troubled him and food was served regularly. With the permission of the jail superintendent, Charles’ wife Clarissa, brought him the chemicals he needed. Charles continued to carry out his experiments in jail. He managed to prove that if magnesium is added to rubber, the stickiness could be removed from its surface. When he left the prison, he began to produce shoes from rubber mixed with magnesium. At first the shoes were made in the kitchen of his house. As orders flowed in the family began to enjoy a more comfortable life style. But in order to make rubber a useful material, Charles continued with his experiments. Complaints from neighbours regarding the foul smell emitted compelled him to close down his improvised factory. No one was willing to finance him. He had no money for elaborate equipment — his main tools were determination and belief in the failure of rubber.

Charles found a lonely place in Greenwich village in New York. He hired a room there, to continue his experiments. It was in 1837, that he was convinced that nitric acid would protect rubber from the effects of heat. But on producing good of such rubber, he felt he was wrong. Nothing seemed to be working right and his wife begged him to stop making such futile attempts. Creditors harassed them, their children were remaining starved, but Charles would not get rid of his obsession to invent useful rubber.

One day in February, 1839, Goodyear’s wife had gone to the market, when Charles was mixing some rubber and sulphur in the kitchen. When he suddenly heard her returning, afraid that she would get upset, he threw the whole mass into the kitchen stove. Clarissa noticed a peculiar smell, but said nothing. As soon as she left the kitchen, Goodyear looked at his rubber — there it was, mixed with sulphur and subjected to great heat! The mass had become the rubber be wanted, but it needed improvements — he couldn’t use charred pieces of rubber. The exact degree of heat and length of time necessary to process it, had yet to be worked out. Later, when Charles wanted to patent his process of treating rubber with sulphur, he had to confront a legal battle with another claimant, Thomas Hancock, who finally admitted that Goodyear was actually the first to vulcanise rubber. Years of battle with yet another claimant, financial crisis, death of many family members, including his father and later his daughter, shattered his health. On July 1, 1860, Goodyear died, leaving behind a debt of $ 200,000. His children considered his life a failure and none of them touched rubber — a cause of their misery. It was after nearly 40 years that Goodyear’s name was vindicated and his great achievement acknowledged by a new and more grateful generation. A firm bearing the name of Goodyear, in recognition of his work, was established in 1898. The world now revolves on vulcanised rubber which has increased wealth, health and comfort of the world. We have to thank the man who endured endless poverty, derision, sickness, and imprisonment to give us the comfort he never lived to see.back

Home Image Map
| Chandigarh Heartbeat | Good Motoring and You | Dream Analysis | Regional Vignettes |
Fact File | Roots | Crossword | Stamp Quiz | Stamped Impressions | Mail box |