post

Charles Goodyear – New Haven based Inventor that turned Naugatuck into the Rubber Capital of the World

Charles Goodyear

Charles Goodyear

Charles Goodyear was born in New Haven, Connecticut on this day (Dec 29th) in 1800 and is best known for patenting a process known as vulcanization.

Amasa Goodyear, Charles’s father, opened the first US manufacturer of pearl buttons in the town of Naugatuck, CT in 1807, which supplied the US government with its entire inventory of metal buttons during the war of 1812. Charles was raised in Naugatuck, CT. where he learned the button trade and worked on the family farm as a young man. His enterprising father encouraged Charles to move to Philadelphia and take up an apprenticeship in a company called Rogers and Brothers.

After his apprenticeship, Charles partnered with his father to open the first domestic hardware store in Philadelphia, which is believed to be the first of it’s kind in the United States. While they enjoyed some success in the early years of the venture, it came crashing down in 1830.

In the early 1830’s the bankrupt Charles Goodyear was introduced to rubber at the Roxbury India Rubber Company in New York City where the proprietor explained that while rubber was a fine product in climate friendly Brazil, it wasn’t well suited for the extreme climates of the Northeast US as it had several fatal flaws; it melted in the summer while emitting a terrible smell and cracked in the winter.

Philadelphia County Debtor's Prison (source: getoutofdebt.org)

Philadelphia County Debtor’s Prison

Charles was thrown into debtor’s prison soon after returning to Philadelphia, due to his failure to pay off his creditors. He kept himself occupied with solving the flaws of rubber during his time in prison.

Speculation in the Rubber Industry in the 1830’s caused many investors to lose great sums of money as the promise of the miracle material from Brazil had failed to live up to commercial expectations. By 1835 the US based rubber industry was bust and abandoned by most investors.

Charles Goodyear Patent 3633

Charles Goodyear Patent #3633

Undeterred by the failure of rubber, Charles has a vision for 100’s of commercial applications for rubber including soles for shoes, frogmen suits,, life preservers and many more. He had virtually no resources, no formal training as chemist and his education wasn’t very deep but after many attempts over nearly 15 years to turn rubber into a commercially viable material he would develop a patented process known as vulcanization, which he received his patent for in 1844. Goodyear’s vulcanization process solved the problem of the fatal flaws that most commercial rubber manufactures in 1830’s were unable to solve.

More than sixty additional patents were granted to Goodyear for the application of his original vulcanization process for various uses, including rubber condoms, intrauterine devices, douching syringes, and “womb veils” (diaphragms).

Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Company, Naugatuck, ca. 1900 (Source: http://connecticuthistory.org)

Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Company, Naugatuck, ca. 1900

In 1844 Goodyear built a rubber factory in Naugatuck, which turned it into the rubber capital of the United States and put Naugatuck, Connecticut, on the map as rubber manufacturing capital during the 19th and 20th centuries.

While earning limited fame for his process, Goodyear didn’t financially profit from it as he spent all of his resources during his later years defending his patents in an estimated 32 patent infringement cases. He was in and out of debtor’s prisons in the US, England and France at least 5 times during his lifetime for running up bills which he couldn’t satisfy.

His business acumen never matched his inventive prowess as he made bad deals, failed to patent his process aboard, extended credit to people who couldn’t pay and charged far too small of a royalty percentage on his prized patent, which was the opposite problem that Eli Whitney experienced with the Cotton Gin.

Charles is buried in New Haven at Grove Street Cemetery.

Charles is buried in New Haven at Grove Street Cemetery.

From about the age of 30 through the balance of his life, he was in poor health, him and his wife lost 6 of their 12 children and his family lived in extreme poverty. When he died in 1860 he was nearly $200,000 in debt.

The family did receive modest royalties on Charles’s patents until 1865, which helped them to offset the effects of extreme poverty that they had lived with from 1830 – 1860. They sold the rights to the patents in 1865 just as they were due to expire.

Charles Goodyear had nothing to do with the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, which was founded in 1898 by Frank Seiberling 38 years after his death.