Charles Goodyear - Encyclopedia

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CHARLES GOODYEAR (1800-1860), American inventor, was born at New Haven, Connecticut, on the 29th of December 1800, the son of Amasa Goodyear, an inventor (especially of farming implements) and a pioneer in the manufacture of hardware in America. The family removed to Naugatuck, Conn., when Charles was a boy; he worked in his father's button factory and studied at home until 1816, when he apprenticed himself to a firm of hardware merchants in Philadelphia. In 1821 he returned to Connecticut and entered into a partnership with his father at Naugatuck, which continued till 1830, when it was terminated by business reverses. Already he was interested in an attempt to discover a method of treatment by which indiarubber could be made into merchandizable articles that would stand extremes of heat and cold. To the solution of this problem the next ten years of his life were devoted. With ceaseless energy and unwavering faith in the successful outcome of his labours, in the face of repeated failures and hampered by poverty, which several times led him to a debtor's prison, he persevered in his endeavours. For a time he seemed to have succeeded with a treatment (or "cure") of the rubber with aqua fortis. In 1836 he secured a contract for the manufacture by this process of mail bags for the U.S. government, but the rubber fabric was useless at high temperatures. In 1837 he met and worked with Nathaniel Hayward (1808-1865), who had been an employee of a rubber factory in Roxbury and had made experiments with sulphur mixed with rubber. Goodyear bought from Hayward the right to use this imperfect process. In 1839, by dropping on a hot stove some indiarubber mixed with sulphur, he discovered accidentally the process for the vulcanization of rubber. Two years more passed before he could find any one who had faith enough in his discovery to invest money in it. At last, in 1844, by which time he had perfected his process, his first patent was granted, and in the subsequent years more than sixty patents were granted to him for the application of his original process to various uses. Numerous infringements had to be fought in the courts, the decisive victory coming in 1852 in the case of Goodyear v. Day, in which his rights were defended by Daniel Webster and opposed by Rufus Choate. In 1852 he went to England, where articles made under his patents had been displayed at the International Exhibition of 1851, but he was unable to establish factories there. In France a company for the manufacture of vulcanized rubber by his process failed, and in December 1855 he was arrested and imprisoned for debt in Paris. Owing to the expense of the litigation in which he was engaged and to bad business management, he profited little from his inventions. He died in New York City on the 1st of July 1860. He wrote an account of his discovery entitled GumElastic and its Varieties (2 vols., New Haven, 1853-1855).

See also B. K. Peirce, Trials of an Inventor, Life and Discoveries of Charles Goodyear (New York, 1866); James Parton, Famous Americans of Recent Times (Boston, 1867); and Herbert L. Terry, India Rubber and its Manufacture (New York, 1907).

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