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inventor of vulcanized rubber
Charles Goodyear was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on December 29, 1800, the son of an inventor of farming implements and pioneer in the manufacture of hardware. In 1821, he entered into a partnership with his father at Naugatuck, which continued until 1830.
Like many other inventors and tinkerers of his day, Goodyear became interested in trying to discover a method of treatment by which natural rubber could be made into articles that could withstand temperature extremes, and he spent ten years of his life working toward that discovery. His first success came when he treated natural rubber with aqua fortis, and in 1836 he secured a contract for the manufacture by this process of mail bags for the U.S. Post Office, but the rubber proved to be useless at high temperatures. In 1837 he worked with Nathaniel Hayward on experiments involving mixing sulphur with natural rubber. Goodyear bought the rights to the process from Hayward and began conducting experiments on his own. In 1839 he accidentally dropped some rubber that had been treated with sulphur onto a hot stove and found that it did not melt as would have been expected. Goodyear had inadvertently discovered the process we now know as vulcanization of rubber.
Goodyear received a patent for his process in 1844, but numerous patent infringement cases had to be tried in the courts before he was finally granted exclusive patent rights in 1852. By that time, however, numerous companies in the United States and abroad had used his process to create their own products. Unable to capitalize on his own process, Goodyear was deeply in debt when he died in New York City on July 1, 1860.
The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company with which most Americans are familiar today was not founded until 1898, 38 years after Charles Goodyear's death. Although the company was named in honor of Charles Goodyear, neither he nor any of his heirs ever saw any share of the company's profits.
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This page was last updated on June 15, 2018.