Charles Goodyear (1800 – 1860)
Most people have heard of Goodyear Tyres and would naturally assume that if there was an eponymous owner of the company, he or she would have made a mint. But not a bit of it which is why Charles Goodyear is a worthy inductee into our Hall of Fame.
Although there is evidence that the Mesoamericans had mastered the art of turning rubber into balls and other objects as far back as 1600 BCE, they never seemed to have seen the need for a wheel, never mind one coated with rubber. Consequently, the art of stabilising rubber was “lost” to what we call Western civilization.
Charles was interested in the possibilities presented by rubber and hooked up with a Nathaniel Hayward who ran a rubber factory in Woburn, Massachusetts. For a period of 5 years or so from 1838 until 1844, Goodyear carried out a series of experiments around Hayward’s practice of drying rubber using sulphur. He made the key discovery that by heating rubber with sulphur you created a more durable and useable substance in a process which we now know as vulcanisation, named after the Roman god of fire.
How he came to make his discovery is shrouded in mystery. Goodyear, in his autobiography Gum Elastica, admitted that it was not the result of systematic scientific experimentation but rather through application and observation. It has been claimed that the discovery was the consequence of Goodyear spilling some rubber onto a stove and observing the effects of vulcanisation.
However the discovery came about, Goodyear set about raising capital to industrialise his vulcanised rubber. Unfortunately, he did not find a queue of eager investors – Goodyear had a track record of financial failure – but eventually secured the backing of the New York brothers, William and Emery Ryder. The bad luck we associate with our inductees followed Goodyear around and soon the Ryder Brothers’ business failed, leaving our hero back where he started.
Some years earlier Goodyear had set up a rubber factory at Springfield to which he moved his main business in 1842. His wealthy brother-in-law, Mr DeForest, supplied the capital to allow Charles to bounce back and he applied for a patent (number 3633) in 1844.
But misfortune continued to dog our hero. A Brit, Thomas Hancock, an employee of Charles MacKintosh & Company, also claimed to have discovered vulcanisation and received a British patent, initiated in 1843 and finalised in 1844, weeks before Goodyear’s was awarded. The dispute over primacy went to the courts and after three separate hearings, Goodyear who, had he prevailed, would have had the British patent to go with his American one and the keys to a fortune, lost.
Goodyear’s death, as you would expect, was tragic. He travelled to New York City to see his dying daughter. On arrival he was told that she had already died, he collapsed and died himself shortly afterwards on 1st July 1860 at a Fifth Avenue hotel to which he had been carried.
The Goodyear Tyre Company was not founded until 1898 by Frank Sieberling. It had no connection with our hero other than using his name to honour the modern founder of vulcanisation (possibly).
Charles Goodyear, for discovering and industrialising the vulcanisation of rubber, you are a worthy inductee to our Hall of Fame.
If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Clever Bastards by Martin Fone which is now available on Amazon in Kindle format and paperback. For details follow the link https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=fifty+clever+bastards