Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Goodyear, Charles

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
Appletons' Goodyear Charles.jpg
Appletons' Goodyear Charles signature.png

GOODYEAR, Charles, inventor, b. in New Haven, Conn., 29 Dec., 1800; d. in New York city, 1 July, 1860. He was the son of Amasa Goodyear, who was the first to make hay-forks of spring-steel instead of wrought-iron. The son's education was acquired in the New Haven public schools, and on coming of age he became a member of the firm of A. Goodyear & Sons in Philadelphia. The business proved profitable until 1830, when the failure of southern houses compelled the firm to suspend. Meanwhile the development of the India-rubber industry had begun, large quantities of the crude gum were imported into the United States, companies for its manufacture into shoes were organized, and indeed there was an India-rubber mania in the years 1830-'6 similar to the subsequent gold-fever and petroleum craze. The products of these com- panies, however, were unsatisfactory. It was very simple to make shoes in winter, but the heat of the summer soon softened and destroyed them. In 1834 Goodyear first turned his attention to this substance, and from then until his death the idea of producing from it a solid elastic material occupied his entire mind. His experiments were conducted in Philadelphia, New York, and in different towns of Massachusetts, with his family always in want, and himself frequently in prison for debt; but on the receipt of a few dollars he would purchase new materials and renew his investigations. The first gleam of hope that came to him was in 1835, when he found that by boiling a compound of the gum and magnesia in quicklime and water an article was obtained that seemed to be all that he could desire. He obtained a patent for the process, and sold his product readily; but it was soon found that a drop of weak acid, such as apple-juice or vinegar and water, destroyed the effects of the lime and made the cloth sticky. A year later he found that the action of nitric acid on rubber produced a “curing” superior to anything hitherto made. The secret now seemed to be discovered. A partner with ample capital was found, the abandoned rubber-works on Staten Island leased, and a store on Broadway secured, but the panic of 1837 swept away the fortune of his partner, and left Goodyear penniless again. For some time he vainly endeavored to induce some one to furnish him with money, so that he might place his invention on the market. He was regarded as an object of ridicule, and was called an India-rubber maniac. At this period he was described as “a man with an India-rubber coat on, India-rubber shoes, an India-rubber cap, and in his pocket an India-rubber purse and not a cent in it.” Failing of success in New York, he settled in Roxbury, Mass., where E. M. Chaffee placed at his disposal the plant of the Roxbury rubber company, and for a time he prospered, selling rights under his patents; but the nitric-acid process cured only the surface of the material, and the goods were valueless except in the form of thinnest cloth. His bright prospects vanished, his property was sold, and once more he was penniless. He was strongly urged to discontinue his experiments, but a persistent faith in the ultimate success of his efforts led him to persevere. Meanwhile he found that Nathaniel Hayward (q. v.), in his employ, was in the habit of sprinkling sulphur on the surface of the rubber and drying it in the sun. The effect produced was similar to that obtained by nitric acid, and, believing himself to be on the verge of an important discovery, he continued his experiments. Early in 1839 he found that the application of considerable heat to the sulphured article would cause it to become pliant in cold weather, to have its elasticity increased at all times, and its offensive odor much diminished. After years of patient work, during which he strove to determine the exact conditions under which the most favorable results would ensue, though at times he was so reduced that he sold his children's school-books to purchase new material, he finally, after being aided by his brother-in-law, William DeForrest, obtained, in 1844, his patent for vulcanized rubber. He continued till his death to improve the process of vulcanization and to extend the uses to which the improved material could be put. As he was unable to comply with certain of the requirements of the law of France, his patent was declared void in that country, and he was equally unfortunate in England. There his method was superseded by that of Thomas Hancock, who “re-discovered” the process after receiving information from Goodyear, with whom he was carrying on negotiations for the introduction of rubber into England. He acquired about sixty patents, and the original vulcanizing patent was extended in 1858, but an application in 1867 was refused, owing to the persistent opposition of those who, during his lifetime, grew rich by infringing on his rights. The benefits conferred on humanity by Goodyear's patents have been nowhere more conspicuous than in connection with the military service during the civil war. The great council medal of the world's fair held in London in 1851 was conferred on him, and he also received the grand medal of the world's fair held in Paris in 1855 together with the cross of the legion of honor, which was presented to him by Napoleon III. Although he died in debt, he lived to see his material applied to nearly 500 uses, and to give employment to upward of 60,000 persons. Dr. Leander Bishop says: “In the art of modifying the curious native properties of caoutchouc and gutta-percha, and of moulding their plastic elements into a thousand forms of beauty and utility, whether hard or soft, smooth or corrugated, rigid or elastic, American ingenuity and patient experiment have never been excelled.” See Bradford K. Peirce's “Trials of an Inventor” (New York. 1866), and Parton's “Famous Americans of Recent Times” (Boston, 1867).