Charles Goodyear


Charles Goodyear was born in New Haven, Connecticut, but at age 14 he left home, moving to Philadelphia to learn the hardware business. He returned home in 1821 and joined his father’s company in Naugatuck, where he manufactured ivory and metal buttons and farming tools. In 1824, he married Clarissa Beecher, and within two years of their marriage the couple had moved to Philadelphia, where Charles opened a hardware store. His business was successful until 1829, when his health began to fail and the company, hurt by several financial losses, was finally forced to shut down.

Goodyear then turned his attention to the gum elastic business; he created several models of improved tubes for life preservers and sent them off to the Roxbury Rubber Company. Unfortunately, as the company later revealed to Goodyear, no one had yet been able to find a way to keep the gum from returning to its original sticky consistency, and as a result many of their products quickly became useless once exposed to extreme temperatures or acidic chemicals. Goodyear attempted several different means of curing the problem, but every near-success only resulted in failure and fiscal losses for everyone involved. Goodyear’s health was also affected; in one incident, he was nearly suffocated by the gases in his laboratory, and he almost died again from the resulting fever. Financial difficulties—as well as the panic of 1837—left Goodyear with little to show for his work, and Roxbury Rubber prepared to go out of business.

Goodyear’s luck finally changed in 1838, when he met factory owner Nathaniel Hayward in Woburn, Massachusetts. Hayward used sulfur to dry rubber, which intrigued Charles. Within a year, Goodyear had found the solution to the problem of sticky rubber: by heating the gum along with sulfur, he created vulcanized rubber, which held together and was much smoother and durable than the raw material. Unfortunately, after so many failed attempts, no one believed in his success. After he several years, he at last went to New York, where William Ryder realized his achievements. Soon after, however, Ryder’s company failed, and Goodyear transferred his products to a small factory in Springfield, Massachusetts that he had begun several years earlier, and which was operated by his brothers. The business was sucessful, and in 1844 Goodyear patented his invention in the U.S. Eight years later, he was on a long-planned trip to Europe when he heard word of a legal dispute concerning another man who had also patented vulcanized rubber. Goodyear attented the trial, hoping to receive royalties from his opponent, but the results were indefinite and Goodyear received nothing. Yet despite his many hardships, Goodyear remained an optimistic person. He passed away in 1860 while travelling to New York visit his ailing daughter. The girl died before his arrival, and, upon hearing the news, he collapsed and died within hours.

Key events during the life of Charles Goodyear:

Moved to Philadelphia to learn the hardware business.
Returned to Connecticut and worked for his father’s business.
Married Clarissa Beecher.
Moved once more to Philadelphia and opened a hardware store.
Forced to shut down his business following a failure in health and several economic losses.
Discovered a process to vulcanize rubber.
Received a patent for his vulcanization process.
Traveled to Europe.
Went to court over a patent dispute with Thomas Hancock.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
India-Rubber Man  in  Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans  by  Edward Eggleston
Charles Goodyear  in  Heroes of Progress in America  by  Charles Morris

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