Goodyear Patents Vulcanized Rubber Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Charles Goodyear’s process for vulcanizing India rubber by heating natural rubber with sulfur improved rubber’s physical properties. Vulcanization gives rubber a higher tensile strength, greater resistance to swelling, and more elasticity over a wide temperature range.

Summary of Event

India, or natural, rubber, which comes from trees, originated in the New World. The first European to notice it was the late fifteenth century explorer Christopher Columbus Columbus, Christopher , who observed children on the island of Hispaniola bouncing balls made of the material. Later explorers took gum samples back to Europe, where the French scientist Charles-Marie de La Condamine first described its properties scientifically in 1735. The English chemist Joseph Priestley Priestley, Joseph (chemist) gave the substance the name “rubber” when he discovered that it could be used to rub out pencil marks. Rubber;vulcanized Goodyear, Charles Chemistry;and rubber[Rubber] [kw]Goodyear Patents Vulcanized Rubber (June 15, 1844) [kw]Patents Vulcanized Rubber, Goodyear (June 15, 1844) [kw]Vulcanized Rubber, Goodyear Patents (June 15, 1844) [kw]Rubber, Goodyear Patents Vulcanized (June 15, 1844) Rubber;vulcanized Goodyear, Charles Chemistry;and rubber[Rubber] [g]United States;June 15, 1844: Goodyear Patents Vulcanized Rubber[2330] [c]Inventions;June 15, 1844: Goodyear Patents Vulcanized Rubber[2330] [c]Science and technology;June 15, 1844: Goodyear Patents Vulcanized Rubber[2330] [c]Manufacturing;June 15, 1844: Goodyear Patents Vulcanized Rubber[2330] [c]Chemistry;June 15, 1844: Goodyear Patents Vulcanized Rubber[2330] Hayward, Nathaniel La Condamine, Charles-Marie de Firestone, Harvey Hancock, Thomas Macintosh, Charles

Fanciful painting by Christian Schussele (1824-1879) of important American inventors, including Charles Goodyear.

(P. F. Collier and Son)

India rubber comes from the sap of Hevea brasiliensis, a softwood tree native to Brazil Brazil;rubber trees and other South American South America;rubber trees countries. The rubber derives from the milky fluid called latex, a natural part of Hevea sap. India rubber is made by first cutting through the Hevea tree’s bark. Then, pails collect the sap that drips from the cuts, and the sap solidifies to rubber curds in the liquid. The curds are then dried, formed into sheets, baled, and used or shipped to factories for use.

One of the first major European uses of India rubber was in raincoats invented in 1823 by Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh. Macintosh, Charles In partnership with Thomas Hancock Hancock, Thomas —later one of Charles Goodyear’s competitors—Macintosh sandwiched India rubber between layers of cloth to create waterproof coats. His raincoats, which became known as macintoshes (or mackintoshes) were so popular that his name later became synonymous with raincoat. The rubber also was used for making life preservers and primitive rain footgear, which was made by South American Indians and exported to Europe and North America. The footgear, however, became sticky and smelly in warm weather and brittle in cold weather.

In 1830, after his hardware business went bankrupt, Charles Goodyear was determined to find a rubber that would lose its summer stickiness and winter brittleness. He purchased from Nathaniel Hayward Hayward, Nathaniel the idea for treating rubber with sulfur. Hayward had reported that India rubber mixed with sulfur was not sticky in hot weather. In 1839—while in Philadelphia’s Arch Street debtor’s prison—Goodyear produced a much-improved sulfur-treated rubber. He is said to have accidentally dropped India rubber, mixed with sulfur, on a hot stove. His resulting discovery would revolutionize the rubber industry.

Vulcanization is a chemical process that gives rubber a higher tensile strength, making it more resistant to tearing when stretched. It also gives rubber a greater resistance to swelling and greater elasticity over a greater temperature range. The simplest process, which was discovered by Goodyear, mixes rubber and sulfur, which are then heated. The chemical reaction between rubber and sulfur causes sulfur to combine with the rubber, which is initially composed of chains of carbon-containing isoprene units. In the nonvulcanized state, each chain, a polymer molecule, can be likened to a strand of cooked spaghetti. Nonvulcanized rubber, a heap of unconnected isoprene-containing polymer molecules sliding over one another, looks like the contents of a bowl of spaghetti, but in this state the molecules have a weak attraction for one another.

The polymer molecules’ ability to slide over one another—despite their tendency to fall back into the heap—is thought to be the basis for elastic stretch. Using a stretching force can be likened to inserting a fork into a bowl of spaghetti and lifting some strands from the main heap. Physical interactions between the individual polymer molecules lead them to contract when the stretching force is released (for example, when the fork is removed from the spaghetti). However, if the stretching agent (the fork) is lifted too far from the heap, some strands will break away from the agent.

Tensile strength in rubber develops when vulcanization produces chemical cross-links (bridges) between individual polymer molecules. These bridges are short chains of sulfur atoms joining the polymer molecules into a main mass, or heap. The chemically conjoined polymer molecules cannot easily be separated from the main mass by stretching.

Goodyear was granted his first patent on rubber vulcanization on June 15, 1844. Vulcanization led to the improvement of almost every item previously made of India rubber, from macintoshes to rubber overshoes. The items became much more durable and did not become sticky and smelly in the summer or brittle in the winter. Many individual people and companies bought licenses from Goodyear to make their products from the new material, but he also had to fight many patent infringements in court between 1844 and 1852. A major infringement case involved Goodyear with Thomas Hancock Hancock, Thomas , owner of a British rubber company. Between 1852 and 1855, Goodyear had sought, unsuccessfully, to establish his own vulcanized-rubber factories in Europe, but he failed. Again, he became impoverished, and consequently was placed in a debtor’s prison in Paris, France.

Meanwhile, in the United States, patent infringements of Goodyear’s process continued. Vulcanization later made millions of dollars for others, but Goodyear was $250,000 in debt when he died. His failure to profit from the commercialization of his invention, even with his sixty patents on vulcanized rubber, can be attributed to his poor business acumen, his more accomplished competitors, and his death before the invention of the automobile, Automobiles;and pneumatic tires[Pneumatic tires] which needed the rubber tires. Tires Pneumatic tires would lead to the success of later rubber tycoons such as Harvey Firestone. Firestone, Harvey


The commercialization of Charles Goodyear’s vulcanized India rubber led to its widespread application. In addition to rubber-based products such as raincoats and rain boots, carriages ran on vulcanized India rubber tires. Furthermore, the running boards of the carriages were topped with rubber and the seats were padded with rubber, making travel much more comfortable.

The small yield of each rubber tree became a problem for manufacturers, however. (For example, the sap from a two-year-old tree could make just one auto tire.) The problem was initially solved by exporting South American hevea seeds—traditionally smuggled—to Europe. The seeds were then disseminated to the Far East (especially Malaysia) for rubber tree cultivation. The Far East became the main source of India rubber.

With advancements in technology, vulcanized India rubber was used in a wide variety of motor vehicle tires (such as those manufactured by Firestone) and aircraft tires, and in rubber bands, surgical gloves, rubber protective sheeting, hot-water bags, ice bags, and electrical insulation.

World War II World War II[World War 02];rubber sources cut off Allied supplies of India rubber when Japan captured most existing sources of the material. This led to development of synthetic forms of rubber by the chemical industry. The first of the synthetic rubbers was styrene-butadiene rubber (Buna-S rubber), which was used in the war effort. Many other synthetic rubbers were developed later for specific uses (for example, neoprene for gas-station tank hoses). Most of these materials, used with India rubber in some cases, were vulcanized before use.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barker, Preston W. Charles Goodyear: Connecticut Yankee and Rubber Pioneer. Boston: G. L. Cabot, 1940. This brief biography provides a useful description of Goodyear’s life and explores the process of vulcanization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Korman, Richard. The Goodyear Story: An Inventor’s Obsession and Struggle for a Rubber Monopoly. San Francisco, Calif.: Encounter Books, 2002. A biography recounting Goodyear’s invention, patent battles, and other business struggles. The book features nontechnical explanations of vulcanization and descriptions of conditions in a nineteenth century rubber factory. Includes an index and photographs of Goodyear and his competitors.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Noonan, Jon. Nineteenth-Century Inventors. New York: Facts On File, 1992. Describes the lives and achievements of eight nineteenth century inventors, including Goodyear. Includes bibliographical references and an index
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Slack, Charles. Noble Obsession: Charles Goodyear, Thomas Hancock, and the Race to Unlock the Greatest Industrial Secret of the Nineteenth Century. New York: Hyperion, 2002. Describes the rivalry between Goodyear and Hancock over vulcanization, a process that engendered business speculation similar to the Internet boom of the 1990’s. Although Slack discusses both individuals, he focuses on Goodyear, crediting him with greater persistence and business acumen than Hancock.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolf, Ralph F. India Rubber Man: The Story of Charles Goodyear. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 1939. Another earlier discussion of Goodyear’s life. Includes a number of good illustrations.

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Categories: History