Sadly, Christmas is over and I have to wait another 54 weeks before being able to enjoy my favorite holiday of the year again. I am going to take a wild guess, however, that at least one of your Christmas presents is made with some rubber. Whether that gift is a bicycle, tennis shoes, balls, or any range of gifts, rubber is everywhere today! Yet, did you realize a little more than one-hundred fifty years ago, materials made out of rubber were considered worthless. And, those that did exist were of limited use because they melted immediately upon getting hot!
Rubber has actually been known about for centuries and even the early Native Americans used the strange substance from the sap of the bark of a tree to make rubber objects as early as 1600 BC. Nevertheless, the secret had been lost by the time that Columbus discovered America. Many companies tried to market products made out of rubber only to go out of business because the substance had the horrible drawback of melting in hot temperatures and becoming brittle in cold temperatures. Then, in 1834, came Charles Goodyear.
Charles Good year is a fascinating character with a unique history, whose 210th
anniversary of his birthday is celebrated this week on December 29th. I first read about him in the book “The Goodyear Story: An Inventor’s Obsession and the Struggle for a Rubber Monopoly
”. The word obsession is a great way to describe Charles Goodyear. He became obsessed with the idea of achieving a process that would overcome all the problems of rubber by getting rid of the stickiness, preventing it from melting in the heat and preventing it from becoming brittle in the cold.
In the end, Goodyear would throw away entire fortunes, nearly kill himself in exposure to poisonous chemicals, and end up in debtors prison multiple times in an attempt to discover the secret of creating rubber. Finally, when he did discover the solution, he would turn down the manufacturing interests, which would have made him one of the richest men in the world, so that he could spend more time inventing new rubber discoveries. And, finally, he would spend the last few years of his life traveling around the world trying to defend the patent for his product from fellow scientists who stole his research and claimed it for their own. In the end, he would die 200,000 dollars in debt, although his family would end up making generous profits from the royalties off his rubber patents.
Altogether, the story of the invention of modern rubber is a wonderful and incredible tale of resiliency, obsession, and the determination to never stop believing in your dreams! To anyone who has ever dreams of creating a new invention or making a new discovery, I encourage them to go to the library and grab “The Goodyear Story”. Do any of you have something that you have dreamed about inventing?