"It may, therefore, be considered as one of those cases where the leading of the Creator
providentially aids his creatures by what are termed accidents, to attain those things which
are not attainable by the powers of reasoning he has conferred on them."
Our next stop in our rubber expedition is Woburn, Massachusetts. The year is 1839. We're at a
rubber manufacturing plant in the town of Woburn. The rubber business isn't very good these
days. While rubber is wonderful at room temperature, it gets very cold here in Massachusetts
in the winter, and rubber gets stiff and brittle in the cold. And a hot summer makes it gooey.
This is why this rubber company has hired a fellow to help them solve the problem.
He has tried lots of things that didn't work. Magnesia did nothing. Nitric acid looked like it might work, but didn't. But today is different because someone does something dumb. In one attempt to make a better rubber, Goodyear has mixed rubber with sulfur and white lead, and painted the mix onto a piece of fabric. This didn't work, either, but somebody, no one knows just who, has left this piece of rubberized fabric on a hot stove top.
This makes Goodyear think. Maybe heating the mix of rubber, sulfur, and white lead has caused the rubber to become melt-proof. Maybe, he thinks, if he were to use less heat, to keep the rubber from charring, he can make melt-resistant rubber, not knowing that he has just crosslinked the stuff
He is absolutely right for once. But by the time he figures out that it is best to heat his rubber and sulfur mixture for four to six hours at 132 oC (270 oC) with steam under pressure, he will have slid even deeper into debt.
He manages to take out a U.S. patent on his invention, but that is his last good business move. Knowing that two British businessmen, Thomas Hancock and Charles Macintosh are bigshots in the rubber business he sends his agent Stephen Moulton to England to try to sell them his idea.
catalog from 1901.
A lot of nasty lawsuits will ensue, and Goodyear never will make any money. He will die deep in debt in 1860. But his surviving heirs (six of his twelve children died of malnutrition while Goodyear was losing money in the rubber game) became very wealthy from royalties due to his U.S. Patent.
famous blimp above Philadelphia.
Next stop: Singapore - Ridley's Rubber Farms
1835: In Britain, Parliament outlaws slavery throughout the British Empire.
1839: Also in Britain, Michael Faraday discovers that light can be affected by magnetic fields.
2. Roberts, Royston M. Serendipity: Accidental Discoveries in Science. New York: Wiley, 1989.
3. Goodyear, Charles. Gum-Elastic vol. I. New Haven, Ct: published privately, 1855.
Goodyear Rubber and Supply catalog from 1901: Courtesy Goodyear Rubber and Supply.
The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company's famous blimp above Philadelphia: Photograph by Gregory Brust.