Little Bits of History

Not Spock

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 15, 2013
Charles Goodyear

Charles Goodyear

June 15, 1844: The process of vulcanization is patented. The process was named for the Roman god of fire, Vulcan. Rubber in its natural state is sticky and unstable at both high and low temperatures. When too warm, it partially melts and changes shape; when too cold, it is brittle and inelastic. These characteristics are due to rubber being composed of long polymer chains that can move independently of each other. In order to interweaver or crosslink the chains, rubber is vulcanized.

Vulcanization takes place under high heat and includes the addition of a curative agent, usually sulfur. This process makes bridges of sulfur atoms or carbon-to-carbon bonds holding the long polymers in place. The treated rubber is less springy, more durable, and has a smoother surface. The bridges are strong covalent bonds (a bond sharing atoms) making the resulting product a thermosetting polymer – meaning it is irreversibly set.

Natural rubber is produced in the sap of some plants. Rubber has been in use since at least 1600 BC in Mesoamerica. It was brought to Europe in 1736 and the substance was found to be interesting but not completely useful because of the difficulty with extreme temperatures. It was handy for rubbing out pencil marks and hence the name “rubber.” Charles Goodyear either through rigorous research or fortuitous good luck (depending on your source) found a way to make rubber useful for a variety of purposes. Goodyear claimed to have discovered the process in 1839, but did not patent it until 1844. He told the story of his find in his autobiography, written in 1853.

Charles Goodyear was born in 1800. His father was an astute businessman. As a young man, Charles also became a successful businessman accruing a fortune. A run of ill health and bad luck led to his financial ruin. He became aware of “gum elastic” in 1831 or 1832 and began an earnest study of the substance. His experiments with rubber often caused problems in the laboratory with clouds of noxious fumes threatening his safety and health. He changed the face of the world, but was not able to reap the profits from his process. He died penniless in 1860. Goodyear was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1976.

“A man has cause for regret only when he sows and no one reaps.” – Charles Goodyear

“I am not disposed to complain that I have planted and others have gathered the fruits.” – Charles Goodyear

“Life should not be estimated exclusively by the standard of dollars and cents.” – Charles Goodyear

“A pencil and rubber are of more use to thought than a battalion of assistants. To happiness the same applies as to truth: one does not have it, but is in it.” – Theodor Adorno

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: It was not until four decades after Goodyear’s death that The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company was founded by Frank Seiberling. The Akron, Ohio company was founded in 1898 and they remain in business with Richard J. Kramer as Chairman, President, and CEO. They make tires for cars, SUVs, and both commercial and light trucks. They supply tires for race cars as well as airplanes and farm equipment. They also make tires for heavy earth-mover equipment. They employ 72,000 people (2010 are latest figures available). In 2012, they had revenue of $20.3 billion with a net income of $220 million from a gross profit of $3.83 billion. They may be best known for their iconic Goodyear blimp which was introduced in 1925. Today, they have three blimps: Spirit of Goodyear, Spirit of America, and Spirit of Innovation.

Also on this day: King “Soft-sword” John “Signs” on the Dotted Line – In 1215, King John of England signs the Magna Carta.
Protect Your Eyes – In 763 BC, the first total solar eclipse was recorded.
Go Fly a Kite! – In 1753, Franklin experimented with electricity, maybe.

2 Responses

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on June 15, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    About: “long polymer chains that can move independently of each other.” That is only when the rubber tire is made by laying continous bands(strands) next to each other overlapping a bit and then the heat applied to melt the bands together- I was trained in a tire shop to do that.. Otherwise now liquid rubber is poured into a mold(die) and then heated and pressed into the shape desired. Much faster than the other way. No work for me the new way but automation works for lower priced tires.

    • Sherry said, on June 16, 2014 at 9:03 am

      Aw, for krissakes . . .

      That sentence refers to what happens on a microscopic (or cellular) level, Bobby Dias.

      Your arrogance knows no bounds, does it? Even when you have zero idea of what you’re talking about (which is most of the time) – you still purport to be an expert! Your hubris is mind-boggling.

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