Charles Goodyear

Goodyear, a name synonymous with tyres and rubber gets its name from the inventor of vulcanised rubber, Charles Goodyear.  Born in New Haven Connecticut in 1800, Goodyear developed a curious and inventive mind and became involved in his early years with the problems surrounding natural rubber. Merchandise, made from natural rubber (latex or isoprene) became brittle in winter and sticky-soft in summer.  Goodyear’s knowledge of rubber resulted in his being awarded a government contract to make rubber mailbags (1836), but these literally melted one summer during use.

 

Described as a ‘gentle lunatic’ Goodyear was possessed by his vision though he hardly knew what he was doing. With infinite patience, Goodyear began a long series of trial and error experiments to see if adding other substances to natural rubber could improve its properties and durability.  One ingredient that appeared promising was sulphur. Goodyear purchased a promising sulphur process from Nathaniel Hayword in 1837 and continued experiments with unwavering faith, becoming utterly obsessed with his quest. He unremittingly sacrificed his own comfort, even selling his children’s schoolbooks to finance his experiments.

Related further reading...

Further Reading:

Barrie Blake-Coleman

Winter after winter had passed with his family desolate and starving; he spent everything he could borrow or pry out of his relatives - (at one time a brother-in-law cheerfully waved goodbye to $46,000). Eventually, so destitute was Goodyear that in 1840 he had to bury his two-year-old son without a coffin. He was imprisoned for debt and often ill, yet he pursued his objective with the passion of a zealot.  Clarissa Goodyear, a patient and courageous woman, endured it all without complaint but a fifth move of house (to Woburn, Massachusetts.), into yet more impoverished quarters, and constant ridicule and harassment from creditors, resulted in her demanding an end to it all.

 

Goodyear relented and promised a respite.  After all, he was almost as bewildered as his wife was. So unpredictable and capricious were his experiments that he hardly knew which way to turn. Some rubber came out of his ovens with ideal properties, other times the process simply would not work. In February of 1839, so it is recounted, he sat by his fire disconsolate, kneading a piece of soft rubber mixed with sulphur. He was certain that the sulphur was crucial to forming a stable rubber. Chilled, and having sold everything (children’s books and all, and only surviving thus far because of the generosity of another benefactor, O.B.Coolidge), he awaited the return of his wife.  Hearing her arrive he threw the guilty rubber into the stovetop plate (or fire - sources conflict).  Later, he retrieved the long baked wad of rubber - to his amazement, it was of a perfect consistency. Goodyear had succeeded; higher temperatures and critical levels of sulphur were the answer. Throwing a similar mass of sulphur and rubber on a very hot stove produced the same effect.

 

Patented in 1844, Goodyear called the process ‘Vulcanisation’ after the Greek God Vulcan. He had no deity to protect him however, and years of struggle, patent litigation and malicious prejudice exhausted him. After attempting to start factories in Europe, his French concern for the manufacture of vulcanised rubber failed (in November of 1855) while Goodyear was in Paris. In December of 1855, he was arrested and imprisoned for debt. He returned to New York disheartened and worn out. He died in near poverty in July 1860 leaving behind a struggling rubber works at Akron, Ohio. It was not until 1900 that the Goodyear Tire and & Rubber Co. was formed, but not on the original Goodyear business or from his descendants. The originators in this case were Frank and Charles Seiberling from Akron, Ohio. They chose the name because they admired their predecessor. There is no doubt that the name helped in the success of the business and the Goodyear Tire and & Rubber Co. became an industrial force as the need for automobile tyres took an upturn.  By 1930, it was unrivalled in tyre production having introduced the wire bead tyre (1907) cord based fabric casings for tyres on electric cars (1912), and the multi-ply high-pressure tyre in 1920.  In 1923, it was late in following Firestone with the low-pressure balloon tyre for exemplary ride comfort but rapidly caught up.

The Rubber Man

Charles Goodyear

Goodyear

Experimenting

Harvesting Natural Rubber

Hephaestus  (Vulcan) - Smith of the Greek gods

Vulcanised Rubber Boots

Modern Vulcanised Tyre