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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.

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Eli Whitney – New Haven Entrepreneur of Guns, Cotton and Mass-Production

Eli Whitney

Engraving of Eli Whitney by Samuel F.B. Morse, c. 1822 New Haven Colony Historical Society

Eli Whitney was born on this day, December 8,1765, he lived to the age 59 and spent the majority of his adult life in New Haven Connecticut.

Eli Whitney is best known for two things: The Cotton Gin and Interchangeable Parts but in reality the unintended consequences of his life’s work brought riches for many and misery to many more.

The Cotton Gin (gin being short for engine) was a device that Whitney developed with his business partner and fellow Yale Alum Phineas Miller that provided a quick mechanized way to remove cotton seeds from bolls of cotton fiber, which until then was a time consuming and labor intensive process.

ginThe Cotton Gin provided for nearly a fifty-fold increase in output productivity over what a single person (generally a slave) could do by hand.

The efficiency of the Cotton Gin, along with several other advances in textile processing, transformed the economy of the South as it turned cotton from a marginal crop into a highly profitable global commodity. American cotton production soared from 156,000 bales in 1800 to more than 4,000,000 bales in 1860. The profit opportunities created by cotton exports drove the increased demand for slaves to plant and pick cotton on Southern Plantations. The number of slaves in America grew in lockstep with the cotton industry from 700,000 in 1790 to 4,000,000 in 1860 to meet the demands of Cotton Growers/Slave Owners.

Slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War.

Slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War.

Numerous historians credit the actual invention of the Cotton Gin to Catherine Greene or Hodgen Holmes while others seem to believe that African American slaves conceived the Gin, but it was Eli Whitney who patented it in 1794.

Despite having a patent on one of most transformative inventions ever, the Cotton Gin didn’t bring riches to Whitney or Miller as their product was knocked-off (pirated) on a large scale by most of the Cotton Growers in the South due to it’s simplistic design, their flawed business model and an extremely weak patent system in the United States at the time.

Interchangeable Parts – Guns

Eli Whitney sought and won a 2-year government contract to make 10,000 muskets (guns) for the Federal Government in 1798. Whitney was awarded the contract due to his notoriety with the Cotton Gin despite having no expertise in gun manufacturing.

Whitneyville Armory, Whitney's Fire-Arms, from an advertisement, ca. 1862 - Library of Congress

Whitneyville Armory, Whitney’s Fire-Arms, from an advertisement, ca. 1862 – Library of Congress

About a year into the contract Whitney received some materials on interchangeable part manufacturing that was being done in France and he decided to incorporate this idea into his manufacturing process. In the late 1700’s skilled Gun Smiths were very scarce, in high demand and expensive so he decided that if he could do component (or sub-assembly) based production of the guns so he could utilize semi-skilled laborers to full-fill his contract in a profitable fashion. Whitney developed innovative processes in milling for producing barrels, stocks…etc and workflow for labor component of assembling his finished muskets. There was a tremendous amount of trial and error involved in getting this new manufacturing process working properly and it took just about the remainder of his adult life to perfect it.

Eli Whitney delivered the balance of his 10,000 muskets on the initial contract but it took him nearly 10 years to do so, rather than the 2 years called for in the contract of 1798. The quality of the guns, after the first few years, earned him accolades by his newest client, The Federal Government, and many subsequent orders followed thus establishing Eli Whitney and Whitney Arms as a reputable source for quality armaments.

Whitney's Milling Machines were designed to cut precise repeatable patterns

Whitney’s Milling Machines were designed to cut precise repeatable patterns

Eli Whitney died of prostrate cancer in New Haven in 1725 but the innovative advances in manufacturing that he pioneered during his lifetime positioned New Haven to become the epicenter of gun manufacturing in the United States for much of the next 200 years. Familiar gun manufactures such as Winchester, Marlin, Mossberg, Colt and nearly 30 other less famous names all have their origins in New Haven thanks to the path that Eli Whitney blazed.

Whitney’s innovative production manufacturing processes, which included standardization and interchangeable parts, were the biggest steps in the development of the modern industrial age as they were emulated and adopted in many other successful manufactures in other industries.

 

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New Haven Rotary is EREY 3 Years Running!!!

PDG Colin Gershon announces to The New Haven Rotary Club, his home club, that they have achieved Every Rotarian, Every Year (EREY) status for the 3rd consecutive year. Under EREY, every Rotarian is encouraged to participate in a Rotary Foundation project and contribute to the Annual Fund every year.

The Rotary Foundation (TRF) is supported solely by voluntary contributions from Rotarians and others who share a vision of a better world. With every donation,  the Rotary Foundation to continues the humanitarian work of Rotarians.