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Who is Charles Goodyear?

Charles Goodyear was the tenacious inventor who transformed the rubber industry. His groundbreaking discovery of vulcanization in 1839 revolutionized the durability of rubber, making it more elastic and heat-resistant, and paving the way for countless applications. Imagine a world without strong, reliable tires or waterproof clothing—Goodyear's legacy touches much of what we use daily. How did his invention change your life?
Katharine Swan
Katharine Swan

Charles Goodyear, the namesake of the well-known Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, is the inventor of vulcanized rubber. The vulcanization process has made possible many rubber products such as tires, which is why Goodyear tires were named after him.

Charles Goodyear was an American inventor who was born in 1800 in Connecticut. He was also the son of an inventor, as his father, Amasa Goodyear, came up with the idea for the steel pitchfork.

Stacks of tires.
Stacks of tires.

It was in the early 1830s that Charles Goodyear became interested in the manufacture of rubber. At that time, gum elastic was being used and experimented with for a number of products, but manufacturers had yet to find a way to make the rubber stable over time. Gum elastic was susceptible to rotting, and therefore did not age well. Goodyear, who was at this time already deep in debt, decided to try to find a way to make rubber stable so that it would last a long time, even under adverse conditions.

In his experiments, Charles Goodyear tried mixing Indian rubber with several different compounds, but none of his mixtures produced the effect he wanted until 1839. Tradition holds that Goodyear accidentally spilled a mixture of India rubber and sulfur onto a hot stove, but in the book he later wrote, he denied that the discovery was an accident. Therefore some speculate that Goodyear may have tried heating the mixture as part of his experiments.

The next five years Goodyear spent perfecting the vulcanization process. Making vulcanized rubber in several different plants with the help of his brothers, he discovered the exact recipe for making a completely stable, weatherproof form of rubber. It therefore was not until 1844 that he finally took out an American patent for his invention. Unfortunately, when he tried to file for a similar patent in England, he discovered that a man named Thomas Hancock had already filed for a patent on the same invention. Hancock claimed to have invented vulcanized rubber independently from Goodyear, but some suspect he may have copied Goodyear’s recipe after noticing a sulfur residue on a rubber sample that Goodyear distributed.

Goodyear died in debt in 1860, many years before rubber would be used to make automobile tires. In fact, when the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company was created in 1898, it had no connection to Charles Goodyear himself, aside from its founder’s wish to honor the inventor that had discovered vulcanized rubber at such a great price to himself.

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Charles Goodyear lived poor and died famous. Thanks for the article.

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    • Stacks of tires.
      By: Joost J. Bakker
      Stacks of tires.