- Engineering & Materials
- Goodyear, Charles (1800–1860)
Goodyear, Charles (1800–1860)
U.S. inventor who is generally credited with inventing the process for vulcanizing rubber.
Goodyear was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on December 18, 1800. When he came of age he entered his father's hardware business at Naugatuck, Connecticut, where he worked with enthusiasm, inventing various implements, including a steel pitchfork to replace the heavy iron type.
The firm became financially unstable, and by 1830 Goodyear realized that he would have to turn to something else. He chose to investigate india rubber and the problems associated with it, particularly how to make the rubber remain strong and pliable over a range of temperatures. He thought he had found the solution by mixing nitric acid with the rubber, and in 1836 secured a government order for a consignment of mail bags. But they would not stand up to high temperatures and were therefore useless. Goodyear was forced to start again.
In 1837 he bought out the rights of Nathaniel Hayward, who had had some success by mixing sulfur with raw rubber. After much patient experiment—and a deal of luck—Goodyear finally perfected the process he called vulcanization.
He obtained U.S. patents in 1844, but both the U.K. and France refused his applications because of legal technicalities. His attempts to set up companies in both countries failed, and for a while he was imprisioned for debt in Paris. Eventually he returned to the United States, where many of his patents had been pirated by associates. Even his son, who had been working for him, decided to leave the ailing firm and Goodyear was forced to face his heavy debts alone. He died lonely and poverty-striken in New York City on July 1, 1860.
Various people throughout the western world tried to make rubber a more commercially viable material. Goodyear discovered the vulcanization process by accident. While experimenting in mixing rubber, sulfur and white lead he accidentally overheated his mixture and found charring but no melting. He repeated this experiment and found the rubber had vulcanized.
The invention was highly significant at a time of industrial advancement. The new process made rubber a suitable material for such applications as belting and hoses, for which strength at high temperatures was the governing factor. It was also particularly valuable once the idea of rubber tires was conceived, at first for bicycles and then for cars.
Goodyear's process was eventually superseded by more refined methods and by the development of synthetic rubbers. And although he failed to find wealth in his lifetime, his name still lives on and can be seen on motor tires throughout the world.
From the Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Biography, © RM, 2020. All rights reserved. Published under license in AccessScience, © McGraw-Hill Education, 2000–2020. Helicon Publishing is a division of RM.