Charles Goodyear was born on 29 December 1800 in New Haven, Connecticut, USA – the first of 6 children born to Amasa and Cynthia Goodyear. Amasa was a farmer, inventor and manufacturer of farm implements and famous for buttons, being credited as the first manufacturer of pearl buttons in America.
When 17, Charles was placed with a large firm of importers and manufacturers agents in Philadelphia, Penn. In 1921 he returned to New Haven to become a partner in one of his father’s businesses.
He married in 1824 and two years later set up a retail hardware store in Philadelphia. His health failed along with his business and he was imprisoned, the first of many times, for debt. Although he later set up blacksmithing he did not clear his debts and he turned to inventing, taking out various patents which he sold or assigned to his many creditors.
The first rubber manufactory had been set up at Roxbury, Mass. in 1833 for making waterproof textiles and other items – but these were not satisfactory; the rubber melted in summer and cracked in winter.
Charles Goodyear turned his attention to ‘curing’ this problem, working at his home. He was impoversihed but managed to find enough financial backing for this work, and was granted a patent in 1837 for an acid gas process – winning medals for his displays of rubber goods.
In 1838 Goodyear purchased the former Eagle India Rubber Company which had come into the hands of Nathaniel Hayward. He assisted Hayward in taking out a patent (which was assigned to Goodyear) for a combination of rubber with sulphur. Further patents were taken out by Goodyear but he was still in financial trouble and was again imprisoned for debt.
The important vulcanisation patent was granted in June 1844, one month after Hancock (who was aware of Goodyear’s work with sulphur) had taken out a similar patent in the UK. In 1858 the patent was extended for a further 7 years.
Goodyear was still in debt when he died on 1 July 1860 of ‘gout’. His final illnes, however, had many of the symptoms of lead poisoning, and his death has been attributed to the extensive use of white lead in his many vulcanisation experiments.