Thomas Hancock was born May 8th, 1786 in England. He was an English inventor who is known for founding the British rubber Industry. In 1819 he had begun to experiment with making rubber solutions. In 1820 he patented fastenings for things like gloves, suspenders, shoes, and stockings. In the process of creating these early elastic fabrics, Hancock found himself wasting large amounts of rubber. Because he wanted to figure out a way to solve this wasting problem, he invented a machine known as a masticator machine, to shred the waste rubber. The first masticator was a wooden machine that used a hollow cylinder studded with teeth. Inside the cylinder was a studded core that was hand cranked. Around this time there was another inventor and Scottish chemist named Charles Macintosh who was known for inventing waterproof fabrics. Hancock and Macintosh came together as inventors and put their knowledge about the different uses of rubber together to go and invent things like Macintosh raincoats, which were first made using the methods developed by Charles Macintosh. Hancock and Macintosh founded Charles Macintosh and Co. in 1834. They were located in Manchester, England and were the leading rubber company in the world.
The first picture is of a masticator. Thomas Hancock invented it in 1820. This was one of his biggest inventions involving rubber. The second picture is of one of Charles Macintosh's raincoats, which was one of the first waterproof jackets.
Charles Macintosh was a Scottish chemist, born Dec. 29, 1766, in Glasgow. He is best known for his invention in 1823, when he patented a method for making waterproof garments by using rubber dissolved in coal-tar naphtha for cementing two pieces of cloth together. He invented the first waterproof fabric, but the fabric was not perfect. It was easy to puncture when it was seamed; the natural oil in wool caused the rubber cement to deteriorate. In cold weather the fabric became stiffer and in hot weather the fabric became sticky. When vulcanized rubber was invented in 1839, Macintosh's fabrics improved since the new rubber could withstand temperature changes.
Charles Goodyear was a very important contributor to making rubber such a commodity. Rubber was discovered and people like Thomas Hancock and Charles Macintosh used different solvents to be able to shape and mold rubber. However, everyone had the same problem with rubber; it would become hard and rigid if exposed to cold environments, and would melt and become sticky. It was Charles Goodyear who was able to discover the answer to this problem. Goodyear decided to become an inventor at age 33, and he was in a lot of debt before his breakthrough with rubber. He was a very persistent inventor who had no experience with chemistry and most say discovered vulcanized rubber by accident. He was in his own kitchen trying to make rubber useful and reliable in the industrial world when he happened to throw together the right combination of elements and the right conditions. The accident was related to how much he heated up the rubber. “He heated rubber with sulfur and white lead (which accelerated the reaction) to produce a harder material which could withstand changes in temperature.” (Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History) This process is named Vulcanization after the Roman god Vulcan who is the god of fire. He discovered this process in 1839 and patented it in 1844. Vulcanized rubber was then used for a surfeit of things including bike tires, carriage tires, shoe soles, toys, rafts, and waterproof clothes. After the invention of vulcanized rubber, Goodyear spent years protection his process and fighting countless patent battles. Thomas Hancock was one of these people who copied Goodyear’s process and actually improved it. Goodyear died in 1860. In 1865, his son sold the Goodyear name which was the year Charles Goodyear’s patent expired. Many years later a tire manufacturer in Akron, Ohio named his company Goodyear Tire and Rubber. This company had no affiliation to Charles Goodyear, but the company was named Goodyear in honor of the inventor of vulcanization.
Harvey Firestone was born in Columbiana, Ohio in 1868. He was the founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company which was founded in 1900 and located in Akron, Ohio. Firestone was smart, and developed a friendship with a guy named Henry Ford. He made this friendship knowing that Ford owned the Ford Motor Company which is a car manufacturer. This friendship really paid off for Firestone because Firestone Tire and Rubber Company became Ford Motor Company’s main supplier of tires. Ford and Firestone knew that rubber was a very fragile natural resource. They saw this during WWI when the war put a gigantic strain of the world’s rubber supplies. This is when both Ford and Firestone decided to do something about it. In 1926 they established “Fordlandia”. This was a rubber plantation in Northern Brazil that was two and a half acres in size. This plantation was planted with hevea seeds and became a thriving plantation that supported thousands of workers. Then misfortune stuck when leaf blight destroyed the hevea trees. Fordlandia eventually weakened and failed. After Fordlandia, Henry Ford decided to create a second plantation. This new plantation was named Belterra and was made in 1934; however, this plantation was unsuccessful. Firestone had better luck when he chose to build a plantation in Africa. He made an agreement with Liberia to create a plantation to make his own rubber. At its height this plantation had over 10,000 workers. It is still in use today and has 8,000 workers. They harvest natural rubber that is still used in their tires today.
Wallace Hume Carothers, born April 27, 1896, was an American chemist, inventor, and the leader of organic chemistry at DuPont. He was best known for his invention of nylon. Nylon was patented in 1935, which is the same year he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. His invention of nylon hit the markets in 1939 and was an instant hit, especially as a replacement for silk in hosiery. With the onset of World War II, nylon was commandeered for war purposes—for example, to make parachute canopies. Once the war was over, sales to civilian consumers skyrocketed. Sadly, Wallace’s life ended abruptly when he killed himself due to his depression, but his break through inventions have proved to live on forever.
Waldo Lonsbury Semon, born September 10, 1898, was an American inventor from Alabama. Semon worked on methods of improving rubber, and eventually developed a synthetic substitute. He is most famous for inventing a material called Vinyl in 1926 when he was working for the B.F. Goodrich Company in the United States as a researcher. His invention of Vinyl is the worlds second most used plastic. Semon made about 5,000 different synthetic rubber compounds. His invention called PVC is commonly used to insulate electric wires and to produce pipes. In the U.S. alone PVC pipes account for 65% of the water distribution market and 75% in sanitary sewer pipe applications.
Other Important People in the History of Rubber
There are a few people that are very important to the history of rubber, but did not get their own individual biography because they were already heavily brought up in other sections of the website. These people are:
Charles de la Condamine
Charles de la Condamine