MoboReader> Literature > Great Fortunes, and How They Were Made

   Chapter 14 CHARLES GOODYEAR.

Great Fortunes, and How They Were Made By James Dabney McCabe Characters: 45491

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


In the year 1735, a party of astronomers, sent by the French Government to Peru for purposes of scientific investigation, discovered a curious tree growing in that country, the like of which no European had ever seen before. It grew to a considerable size, and yielded a peculiar sap or gum. It was the custom of the natives to make several incisions in each tree with an ax, in the morning, and to place under each incision a cup or jar made of soft clay. Late in the afternoon, the fluid thus obtained was collected in a large clay vessel, each incision yielding about a gill of sap per day. This process was repeated for several days in succession, until the tree had been thoroughly drained. This sap was simply a species of liquid gum, which, though clear and colorless in its native state, had the property of becoming hard and tough when exposed to the sun or artificial heat. It was used by the natives for the manufacture of a few rude and simple articles, by a process similar to that by which the old-fashioned "tallow-dip" candles were made. It was poured over a pattern of clay or a wooden mold or last covered with clay, and successive coatings were applied as fast as the former ones dried, until the article had attained the desired thickness, the whole taking the shape of the mold over which the gum was poured. As the layers were applied, their drying was hastened by exposure to the heat and smoke of a fire, the latter giving to the gum a dark-black hue. Dried without exposure to the smoke, or by the sun alone, the gum became white within and yellowish-brown without. The drying process required several days, and during its progress the gum was ornamented with characters or lines made with a stick. When it was completed, the clay mold was broken to pieces and shaken out of the opening. The natives in this manner made a species of rough, clumsy shoe, and an equally rough bottle. In some parts of South America, the natives make it a rule to present their guests with one of these bottles, furnished with a hollow stern, which serves as a syringe for squirting water into the mouth in order to cleanse it after eating. The articles thus made were liable to become stiff and unmanageable in cold weather, and soft and sticky in warm. The French astronomers, upon their return to their own country, were quick to call attention to this remarkable gum, which was afterward discovered in Cayenne by Trismau, in 1751. At present it is found in large quantities in various parts of South America, but the chief supplies used in commerce are produced in the province of Para, which lies south of the equator, in Brazil. It is also grown largely in the East Indies, vast and inexhaustible forests of the trees which yield it being found in Assam, beyond the Ganges, although the quality can not compare with that of the South American article.

This substance, variously known as cachuchu, caoutchouc, gum elastic, and India-rubber, was first introduced into Europe in 1730, where it was regarded merely as a curiosity, useful for erasing pencil marks, but valueless for any practical use. Ships from South America brought it over as ballast, but it was not until ninety years after its first appearance in Europe that any effort was made to utilize it. About the year 1820 it began to be used in France in the manufacture of suspenders and garters, India-rubber threads being mixed with the materials used in weaving those articles. It was also used in blacking and varnish, and some years later, Mackintosh brought it into prominent notice by using it in his famous water-proof coats, which were made by spreading a layer of the gum between two pieces of cloth. The gum was thus protected from the air, and preserved from injury.

Up to this time, it was almost an unknown article in the United States, but in 1820 a pair of India-rubber shoes were exhibited in Boston. Even then they were regarded as merely a curiosity, and were covered with gilt foil to hide their natural ugliness. In 1823, a merchant, engaged in the South American trade, imported five hundred pairs from the Para district. He had no difficulty in disposing of them; and so great was the favor with which they were received, that in a few years the annual importation of India-rubber shoes amounted to five hundred thousand pairs. It had become a matter of fashion to wear these shoes, and no person's toilet was complete in wet weather unless the feet were incased in them; yet they were terribly rough and clumsy. They had scarcely any shape to them, and were not to be depended on in winter or summer. In the cold season they froze so hard that they could be used only after being thawed by the fire, and in summer they could be preserved only by keeping them on ice; and if, during the thawing process, they were placed too near the fire, there was danger that they would melt into a shapeless and useless mass. They cost from three to five dollars per pair, which was very high for an article so perishable in its nature.

The great popularity of India-rubber induced Mr. E.M. Chaflee, of Boston, the foreman of a patent leather factory in that city, to attempt to apply the new substance to some of the uses to which patent leather was then put. His hope was that, by spreading the liquid gum upon cloth, he could produce an article which, while possessing the durability and flexibility of patent leather, would also be water-proof. His experiments extended over a period of several months, during which time he kept his plan a secret. He dissolved a pound of the gum in three quarts of spirits of turpentine, and added to the mixture enough lamp-black to produce a bright black color, and was so well satisfied with his compound, that he felt sure that the only thing necessary to his entire success was a machine for spreading it properly on the cloth. Like a true son of New England, he soon overcame this difficulty by inventing the desired machine. His compound was spread on the cloth, and dried in the sun, producing a hard, smooth surface, and one sufficiently flexible to be twisted into any shape without cracking. Mr. Chaffee was now sure that he had mastered the difficulty. Taking a few capitalists into his confidence, he succeeded so well in convincing them of the excellence of his invention, that in February, 1833, a company, called the "Roxbury India-rubber Company," was organized, with a capital of thirty thousand dollars. In three years this sum was increased to four hundred thousand dollars. The new company manufactured India-rubber cloth according to Mr. Chaffee's process, and from it made wagon-covers, piano-covers, caps, coats, and a few other articles, and, in a little while, added to their list of products shoes without fiber. They had no difficulty in disposing of their stock. Every body had taken the "India-rubber fever," as the excitement caused by Mr. Chaffee's discovery was called; and so high were the hopes of the public raised by it, that buyers were found in abundance whenever the bonds of the numerous India-rubber companies were offered for sale. The extraordinary success of the Roxbury Company led to the establishment of similar enterprises at Boston, Framingham, Salem, Lynn, Chelsea, Troy, and Staten Island. The Roxbury Company could not supply the demand for its articles, and the others appeared to have as much business as they could attend to. Apparently, they were all on the high road to wealth.

Their prosperity was only fictitious, however, and a day of fearful disaster was pending over them. The bulk of the goods produced in 1833 and 1834 had been manufactured in the cold weather, and the greater part of them had succumbed to the heat of the ensuing summer. The shoes had melted to a soft mass, and the caps, wagon-covers, and coats had become sticky and useless in summer, and rigid in the cold of winter. In some cases the articles had borne the test of one year's use, but the second summer had ruined them. To make the matter worse, they emitted an odor so offensive that it was necessary to bury them in the ground to get rid of the smell. Twenty thousand dollars' worth were thrown back on the hands of the Roxbury Company alone, and the directors were appalled by the ruin which threatened them. It was useless for them to go on manufacturing goods which might prove worthless at any moment; and, as their capital was already taxed to its utmost, it was plain that unless a better process should be speedily discovered, they must become involved in irretrievable disaster. Their efforts were unavailing, however. No better process was found, and the disgust of the public with their goods was soon general and unmitigable. India-rubber stock fell rapidly, and by the end of the year 1836 there was not a solvent company in the Union. The loss of the stockholders was complete, and amounted in the aggregate to two millions of dollars. People came to detest the very name of India-rubber, since it reminded them only of blighted hopes and heavy losses.

Before the final disaster, however, it chanced that a bankrupt merchant of Philadelphia, being one day in New York on business, was led by curiosity to visit the salesroom of the agency of the Roxbury Company in that city. His visit resulted in the purchase of a life-preserver, which he took home with him for the purpose of examining it. Subjecting it to a careful investigation, he discovered a defect in the valve used for inflating it, and promptly devised a simpler and better apparatus.

This man, afterward so famous in the history of India-rubber manufacture, was CHARLES GOODYEAR. He was born at New Haven, Connecticut, on the 29th of December, 1800. He attended a public school during his boyhood, thus acquiring a limited education. When quite a youth, he removed with his family to Philadelphia, where his father entered into the hardware business. Upon coming of age, he was admitted to partnership with his father and one of his brothers, the style of the firm being A. Goodyear & Sons. The house was extensively engaged in the manufacture of hardware, and among the other articles which they introduced was a light hay-fork, made of spring steel, which gradually took the place of the heavy wrought iron implement formerly in general use among the farmers. It required a large outlay and a great deal of time to introduce this fork, but, once in use, it rapidly drove the old one out of the market, and proved a source of considerable profit to its inventor. The prosperity of the house, however, soon began to wane, and it was brought to bankruptcy by the crisis of 1836.

Mr. Goodyear's attention had for some time been attracted to the wonderful apparent success of the India-rubber companies of the country, and he was hopeful that his improvement in the inflating apparatus of the life-preserver would bring him the means of partially extricating himself from his difficulties. Repairing to New York, he called on the agent of the Roxbury Company, and explaining his invention to him, offered to sell it to the company. The agent was struck with the skill displayed in the improvement of Mr. Goodyear, but, instead of offering to buy it, astounded the inventor by informing him of the real state of the India-rubber trade of the country. He urged Mr. Goodyear to exert his inventive skill to discover some means of imparting durability to India-rubber goods, and assured him that if he could discover a process which would secure that end, the various companies of the United States would eagerly buy it at his own price. He explained to him the process then in use, and pointed out its imperfections. Mr. Goodyear listened carefully to his statements, forgot all about his disappointment in failing to sell his improved inflating apparatus, and went home firmly convinced that he had found his true mission in life. In after years, when success had crowned his labors, he modestly referred to this period of his career in language the substance of which is thus recorded:

"From the time that his attention was first given to the subject, a strong and abiding impression was made upon his mind that an object so desirable and important, and so necessary to man's comfort, as the making of gum elastic available to his use was most certainly placed within his reach. Having this presentiment, of which he could not divest himself under the most trying adversity, he was stimulated with the hope, of ultimately attaining this object. Beyond this, he would refer the whole to the great Creator, who directs the operations of the mind to the development of properties of matter, in his own way, at the time when they are specially needed, influencing some mind for every work or calling."

There was something sublime in the attitude of this one man, now feeble in health, the only dependence of a young family, a bankrupt in business, starting out to seek success in a field in which so many had found only ruin. He was convinced in his own mind that he would master the secret, while his friends were equally sure that he would but increase his difficulties. The firm of which he had been a member had surrendered all their property to their creditors; but they still owed thirty thousand dollars, and immediately upon his return from New York, after his visit to the agent of the Roxbury Company, he was arrested for debt, and though not actually thrown in jail, was compelled to take up his residence within prison limits.

Strong in the conviction before named, that he was the man of all others to discover the secret of controlling India-rubber, he at once began his experiments. This was in the winter of 1834-35. The gum had fallen in price to five cents per pound, and, poor as he was, he had no difficulty in procuring a sufficient quantity to begin with. By melting and working the gum thoroughly, and by rolling it upon a stone table with a rolling-pin, he succeeded in producing sheets of India-rubber which seemed to him to possess the properties which those of Mr. Chaffee had lacked. He explained his process to a friend, who, becoming interested in it, loaned him the money to manufacture a number of shoes, which at first seemed all that could be desired. Fearful, however, of meeting the fate which had befallen the Roxbury Company, Mr. Goodyear put his shoes away until the next summer, to ascertain whether they would bear the heat. His doubts were more than realized. The warm weather completely ruined them, reducing them to a mass of so offensive an odor that he was glad to throw them away.

The friend of the inventor was thoroughly disheartened by this failure, and refused to have any thing more to do with Goodyear's schemes; but the latter, though much disappointed, did not despair. He set to work to discover the cause of his failure, and traced it, as he supposed, to the mixing of the gum with the turpentine and lamp-black. Having procured some barrels of the gum in its native liquid state, he spread it on cloth without smoking it or mixing it with any thing else. He succeeded in producing a very handsome white rubber cloth, but it was one that became soft and sticky as quickly as the other had done.

It now occurred to him that there must be some mineral substance which, mixed with the gum, would render it durable, and he began to experiment with almost every substance that he could lay his hands on. All these proved total failures, with the exception of magnesia. By mixing half a pound of magnesia with a pound of the gum, he produced a compound much whiter than the pure gum, and one which was at first as firm and flexible as leather. He made book-covers and piano-covers out of it, and for a time it seemed that he had discovered the longed-for secret; but in a month his pretty product was ruined. The heat caused it to soften; then fermentation set in, and, finally, it became as hard and brittle as thin glass.

His friends, who had aided him at first, now turned from him coldly, regarding him as a dreamer; and his own stock of money was exhausted. In his extremity he was forced to pawn all his own valuables, and even some of the trinkets of his wife. In spite of this, he felt sure that he was on the road to success, and that he would very soon be enabled to rise above his present difficulties, and win both fame and fortune. He was obliged for the time, however, to remove his family to the country, depositing with his landlord, as security for the payment of the first quarter's rent, some linen which had been spun by his wife, and which he was never able to redeem. Having settled his family in the country, he set out for New York, where he hoped to find some one willing to aid him in extending his researches still further.

Arrived in the great city, he found two old acquaintances, to whom he stated his plans and his hopes. One of them offered him the use of a room in Gold Street, as a laboratory, and the other, who was a druggist, agreed to let him have such chemicals as he needed on credit. He now proceeded to boil the gum, mixed with magnesia, in quicklime and water, and, as the result, obtained sheets of his compound whose firmness and smoothness of surface won them a medal at the fair of the American Institute in 1835. He seemed now on the point of success, and readily disposed of all the sheets he could manufacture. The newspapers spoke highly of his invention, for which he obtained a patent; and he was about to endeavor to enlist some persons of means in its manufacture on a large scale, when, to his dismay, he discovered that a single drop of the weakest acid, such as the juice of an apple, or diluted vinegar, would utterly destroy the influence of the lime in the compound, and reduce it to the old sticky substance that had baffled him so often.

His next step was to mix quicklime with the gum. In order to work the compound thoroughly, he used to carry the vessel containing it, on his shoulder, to a place three miles distant from his laboratory, where he had the use of horse power. The lime, however, utterly destroyed the gum, and nothing came of this experiment.

The discovery which followed was the result of accident, and brought him on the very threshold of success, yet did not entirely conquer his difficulties. He was an ardent lover of the beautiful, and it was a constant effort with him to render his productions as attractive to the eye as possible. Upon one occasion, while bronzing a piece of rubber cloth, he applied aqua fortis to it for the purpose of removing the bronze from a certain part. It took away the bronze as he had designed, but it also discolored the cloth to such a degree that he supposed it ruined, and threw it away. A day or two later, he chanced to remember that he had not examined very closely into the effect of the aqua fortis upon the rubber, and thereupon instituted a search for it. He was fortunate enough to find it, and was overjoyed to discover that the rubber had undergone a remarkable change, and that the effect of the acid was to harden it to such an extent that it would now stand a degree of heat which would have melted it before. When the reader remembers that aqua fortis is a compound two-fifths of which is sulphuric acid, he will understand that Mr. Goodyear had almost mastered the secret of vulcanizing rubber. He does not appear, however, to have known the true nature of aqua fortis, and called his process the "curing" of India-rubber by the use of that acid.

The "cured" India-rubber was subjected to many tests, and passed through them successfully, thus demonstrating its adaptability to many important uses. Mr. Goodyear readily obtained a patent for his process, and a partner with a large capital was found ready to aid him. He hired the old India-rubber works on Staten Island, and opened a salesroom in Broadway. He was thrown back for six weeks at this important time by an accident, which happened to him while experimenting with his fabrics, and which came near causing his death. Just as he was recovering and preparing to commence the manufacture of his goods on a large scale, the terrible commercial crisis of 1836 swept over the country, and, by destroying his partner's fortune at one blow, reduced Goodyear to absolute beggary. His family had joined him in New York, and he was entirely without the means of supporting them. As the only resource at hand, he decided to pawn an article of value, one of the few which he possessed, in order to raise money enough to procure one day's supply of provisions. At the very door of the pawnbroker's shop he met one of his creditors, who kindly asked if he could be of any further assistance to him. Weak with hunger, and overcome by the generosity of his friend, the poor man burst into tears, and replied that, as his family was on the point of starvation, a loan of fifteen dollars would greatly oblige him. The money was given him on the spot, and the necessity for visiting the pawnbroker averted for several days longer. Still he was a frequent visitor to that individual during the year; and thus, one by one, the relics of his better days disappeared. Another friend loaned him one hundred dollars, which enabled him to remove his family to Staten Island, in the neighborhood of the abandoned rubber works, which the owners gave him permission to use as far as he could. He contrived in this way to manufacture enough of his "cured" cloth, which sold readily, to enable him to keep his family from starvation. He made repeated efforts to induce capitalists to come to the factory and see his samples and the process by which they were made, but no one would venture near him. There had been money enough lost in such experiments, they said, and they were determined to risk no more.

Indeed, in all the broad land there was but one man who had the slightest hope of accomplishing any thing with India-rubber, and that one was Charles Goodyear. His friends regarded him as a monomaniac. He not only manufactured his cloth, but even dressed in clothes made of it, wearing it for the purpose of testing its durability, as well as of advertising it. He was certainly an odd figure, and in his appearance justified the remark of one of his friends, who, upon being asked how Mr. Goodyear could be recognized, replied: "If you see a man with an India-rubber coat on, India-rubber shoes, an India-rubber cap, and in his pocket an India-rubber purse, with not a cent in it, that is Goodyear."

In September, 1836, a new gleam of hope lit up his pathway. A friend having loaned him a small sum of money, he went to Roxbury, taking with him some of his best specimens. Although the Roxbury Company had gone down with such a fearful

crash, Mr. Chaffee, the inventor of the process in this country, was still firm in his faith that India-rubber would at some future time justify the expectations of its earliest friends. He welcomed Mr. Goodyear cordially, and allowed him to use the abandoned works of the company for his experiments. The result was that Goodyear succeeded in making slides and cloths of India-rubber of a quality so much better than any that had yet been seen in America, that the hopes of the friends of India-rubber were raised to a high point. Offers to purchase rights for certain portions of the country came in rapidly, and by the sale of them Goodyear realized between four and five thousand dollars. He was now able to bring his family to Roxbury, and for the time fortune seemed to smile upon him.

His success was but temporary, however. He obtained an order from the General Government for one hundred and fifty India-rubber mail-bags, which he succeeded in producing, and as they came out smooth, highly polished, hard, well shaped, and entirely impervious to moisture, he was delighted, and summoned his friends to inspect and admire them. All who saw them pronounced them a perfect success; but, alas! in a single month they began to soften and ferment, and finally became useless. Poor Goodyear's hopes were dashed to the ground. It was found that the aqua fortis merely "cured" the surface of the material, and that only very thin cloth made in this way was durable. His other goods began to prove worthless, and his promising business came to a sudden and disastrous end. All his possessions were seized and sold for debt, and once more he was reduced to poverty. His position was even worse than before, for his family had increased in size, and his aged father also had become dependent upon him for support.

Friends, relatives, and even his wife, all demanded that he should abandon his empty dreams, and turn his attention to something that would yield a support to his family. Four years of constant failure, added to the unfortunate experience of those who had preceded him, ought to convince him, they said, that he was hoping against hope. Hitherto his conduct, they said, had been absurd, though they admitted that he was to some extent excused for it by his partial success; but to persist in it would now be criminal. The inventor was driven to despair, and being a man of tender feelings and ardently devoted to his family, might have yielded to them had he not felt that lie was nearer than ever to the discovery of the secret that had eluded him so long.

Just before the failure of his mail-bags had brought ruin upon him, he had taken into his employ a man named Nathaniel Hayward, who had been the foreman of the old Roxbury works, and who was still in charge of them when Goodyear came to Roxbury, making a few rubber articles on his own account. He hardened his compound by mixing a little powdered sulphur with the gum, or by sprinkling sulphur on the rubber cloth, and drying it in the sun. He declared that the process had been revealed to him in a dream, but could give no further account of it. Goodyear was astonished to find that the sulphur cured the India-rubber as thoroughly as the aqua fortis, the principal objection being that the sulphurous odor of the goods was frightful in hot weather. Hayward's process was really the same as that employed by Goodyear, the "curing" of the India-rubber being due in each case to the agency of sulphur, the principal difference between them being that Hayward's goods were dried by the sun, and Goodyear's with nitric acid. Hay ward set so small a value upon his discovery that he had readily sold it to his new employer.

AN AMAZING REVELATION.

Goodyear felt that he had now all but conquered his difficulties. It was plain that sulphur was the great controller of India-rubber, for he had proved that when applied to thin cloth it would render it available for most purposes. The problem that now remained was how to mix sulphur and the gum in a mass, so that every part of the rubber should be subjected to the agency of the sulphur. He experimented for weeks and months with the most intense eagerness, but the mystery completely baffled him. His friends urged him to go to work to do something for his family, but he could not turn back. The goal was almost in sight, and he felt that he would be false to his mission were he to abandon his labors now. To the world he seemed a crack-brained dreamer, and some there were who, seeing the distress of his family, did not hesitate to apply still harsher names to him; but to the Great Eye that reads all hearts, how different did this man appear! It saw the anguish that wrung the heart of Charles Goodyear, and knew the more than heroic firmness with which, in the midst of his poverty and suffering, he agonized for the great discovery. Had it been merely wealth that he was working for, doubtless he would have turned back and sought some other means of obtaining it; but he sought more. He was striving for the good of his fellow-men, and ambitious of becoming a benefactor of the race. He felt that he had a mission to fulfill, and no one else could perform it.

He was right. A still greater success was about to crown his labors, but in a manner far different from his expectations. His experiments had developed nothing; chance was to make the revelation. It was in the spring of 1839 that this revelation came to him, and in the following manner: Standing before a stove in a store at Woburn, Massachusetts, he was explaining to some acquaintances the properties of a piece of sulphur-cured India-rubber which he held in his hand. They listened to him good-naturedly, but with evident incredulity, when suddenly he dropped the rubber on the stove, which was red hot. His old cloths would have melted instantly from contact with such heat; but, to his surprise, this piece underwent no such change. In amazement, he examined it, and found that while it had charred or shriveled, like leather, it had not softened at all. The bystanders attached no importance to this phenomenon, but to him it was a revelation. He renewed his experiments with enthusiasm, and in a little while established the facts that India-rubber, when mixed with sulphur and exposed to a certain degree of heat for a certain time, would not melt or even soften at any degree of heat, that it would only char at two hundred and eighty degrees, and that it would not stiffen from exposure to any degree of cold. The difficulty now consisted in finding out the exact degree of heat necessary for the perfection of the rubber, and the exact length of time required for the heating.

He made this discovery in his darkest days; when, in fact, he was in constant danger of arrest for debt, having already been a frequent inmate of the debtor's prison. He was in the depths of bitter poverty, and in such feeble health that he was constantly haunted by the fear of dying before he had perfected his discovery-before he had fulfilled his mission. His poverty was a greater drawback to him than ever before. He needed an apparatus for producing a high and uniform heat for his experiments, and he was unable to obtain it. He used to bake his compound in his wife's bread oven, and steam it over the spout of her tea-kettle, and to press the kitchen fire into his service as far as it would go. When this failed, he would go to the shops in the vicinity of Woburn, and beg to be allowed to use the ovens and boilers after working hours were over. The workmen regarded him as a lunatic, but were too good-natured to deny him the request. Finally, he induced a bricklayer to make him an oven, and paid him in mason's aprons of India-rubber. The oven was a failure. Sometimes it would turn out pieces of perfectly vulcanized cloth, and again the goods would be charred and ruined. Goodyear was in despair.

All this time he lived on the charity of his friends. His neighbors pretended to lend him money, but in reality gave him the means of keeping his family from starvation. He has declared that all the while he felt sure he would, before long, be able to pay them back, but they declared with equal emphasis that, at that time, they never expected to witness his success. He was yellow and shriveled in face, with a gaunt, lean figure, and his habit of wearing an India-rubber coat, which was charred and blackened from his frequent experiments with it, gave him a wild and singular appearance. People shook their heads solemnly when they saw him, and said that the mad-house was the proper place for him.

The winter of 1839-40 was long and severe. At the opening of the season, Mr. Goodyear received a letter from a house in Paris, making him a handsome offer for the use of his process of curing India-rubber with aqua fortis. Here was a chance for him to rise out of his misery. A year before he would have closed with the offer, but since then he had discovered the effects of sulphur and heat on his compound, and had passed far beyond the aqua fortis stage. Disappointment and want had not warped his honesty, and he at once declined to enter into any arrangements with the French house, informing them that although the process they desired to purchase was a valuable one, it was about to be entirely replaced by another which he was then on the point of perfecting, and which he would gladly sell them as soon as he had completed it. His friends declared that he was mad to refuse such an offer; but he replied that nothing would induce him to sell a process which he knew was about to be rendered worthless by still greater discoveries.

A few weeks later, a terrible snow-storm passed over the land, one of the worst that New England has ever known, and in the midst of it Goodyear made the appalling discovery that he had not a particle of fuel or a mouthful of food in the house. He was ill enough to be in bed himself, and his purse was entirely empty. It was a terrible position, made worse, too, by the fact that his friends who had formerly aided him had turned from him, vexed with his pertinacity, and abandoned him to his fate. In his despair, he bethought him of a mere acquaintance who lived several miles from his cottage, and who but a few days before had spoken to him with more of kindness than he had received of late. This gentleman, he thought, would aid him in his distress, if he could but reach his house, but in such a snow the journey seemed hopeless to a man in his feeble health. Still the effort must be made. Nerved by despair, he set out, and pushed his way resolutely through the heavy drifts. The way was long, and it seemed to him that he would never accomplish it. Often he fell prostrate on the snow, almost fainting with fatigue and hunger, and again he would sit down wearily in the road, feeling that he would gladly die if his discovery were but completed. At length, however, he reached the end of his journey, and fortunately found his acquaintance at home. To this gentleman he told the story of his discovery, his hopes, his struggles, and his present sufferings, and implored him to aid him. Mr. Coolidge[H] -for such was the gentleman's name-listened to him kindly, and after expressing the warmest sympathy for him, loaned him money enough to support his family during the severe weather, and to enable him to continue his experiments.

"Seeing no prospect of success in Massachusetts, he now resolved to make a desperate effort to get to New York, feeling confident that the specimens he could take with him would convince some one of the superiority of his new method. He was beginning to understand the causes of his many failures, but he saw clearly that his compound could not be worked with certainty without expensive apparatus. It was a very delicate operation, requiring exactness and promptitude. The conditions upon which success depended were numerous, and the failure of one spoiled all.... It cost him thousands of failures to learn that a little acid in his sulphur caused the blistering; that his compound must be heated almost immediately after being mixed, or it would never vulcanize; that a portion of white lead in the compound greatly facilitated the operation and improved the result; and when he had learned these facts, it still required costly and laborious experiments to devise the best methods of compounding his ingredients, the best proportions, the best mode of heating, the proper duration of the heating, and the various useful effects that could be produced by varying the proportions and the degree of heat. He tells us that many times when, by exhausting every resource, he had prepared a quantity of his compound for heating, it was spoiled because he could not, with his inadequate apparatus, apply the heat soon enough.

"To New York, then, he directed his thoughts. Merely to get there cost him a severer and a longer effort than men in general are capable of making. First he walked to Boston, ten miles distant, where he hoped to borrow from an old acquaintance fifty dollars, with which to provide for his family and pay his fare to New York. He not only failed in this, but he was arrested for debt and thrown into prison. Even in prison, while his father was negotiating to procure his release, he labored to interest men of capital in his discovery, and made proposals for founding a factory in Boston. Having obtained his liberty, he went to a hotel, and spent a week in vain efforts to effect a small loan. Saturday night came, and with it his hotel bill, which he had no means of discharging. In an agony of shame and anxiety, he went to a friend and entreated the sum of five dollars to enable him to return home. He was met with a point blank refusal. In the deepest dejection, he walked the streets till late in the night, and strayed at length, almost beside himself, to Cambridge, where he ventured to call upon a friend and ask shelter for the night. He was hospitably entertained, and the next morning walked wearily home, penniless and despairing. At the door of his house a member of his family met him with the news that his youngest child, two years old, whom he had left in perfect health, was dying. In a few hours he had in his house a dead child, but not the means of burying it, and five living dependents without a morsel of food to give them. A storekeeper near by had promised to supply the family, but, discouraged by the unforeseen length of the father's absence, he had that day refused to trust them further. In these terrible circumstances, he applied to a friend upon whose generosity he knew he could rely, one who never failed him. He received in reply a letter of severe and cutting reproach, inclosing seven dollars, which his friend explained was given only out of pity for his innocent and suffering family. A stranger who chanced to be present when this letter arrived sent them a barrel of flour-a timely and blessed relief. The next day the family followed on foot the remains of the little child to the grave."

He had now reached the lowest ebb of his misery, and a brighter day was in store for him. Obtaining fifty dollars from a relative, he went to New York, where he succeeded in interesting in his discovery two brothers, William and Emory Rider. They agreed to advance him a certain sum to support his family and continue his experiments. By means of this aid he was enabled to keep his family from want in the future, and from that time his experiments never flagged. Before entire success crowned his efforts, the brothers Rider failed; but he had advanced his experiments so greatly that his brother-in-law, William De Forrest, a rich woolen manufacturer, came to his support, and supplied him with the means to go on with his labors. Mr. De Forrest's total advances amounted to forty-six thousand dollars, from which fact the reader may gain some idea of the obstacles overcome by Goodyear in this last stage of his invention.

The prize for which he had labored so long and so heroically was secured at last, and in 1844, ten years after the commencement of his experiments, he was able to produce perfectly vulcanized India-rubber with expedition and economy, and, above all, with certainty. He had won a success which added a new material to art and commerce, and one which could be applied in a thousand different ways, and all of them useful to man. But great as his success was, he was not satisfied with it. To the end of his life his constant effort was to improve his invention, and apply it to new uses. He had an unlimited faith in its adaptability, believing that there was scarcely any article of general use that could not be made of it. Upon one occasion he read in a newspaper that twenty persons perished every hour by drowning. The statement impressed him deeply, and his wife noticed that for several nights he scarcely slept at all. "Try to compose yourself, and sleep," she said to him. "Sleep!" he exclaimed, "how can I sleep when twenty human beings are drowning every hour, and I am the man that can save them?" And at this time it was his constant endeavor to invent some article of India-rubber which could be easily carried by travelers, and which would render it impossible for them to sink in water.

Having brought his process to a successful completion in this country, and obtained patents for it, he went to Europe to secure similar protections in the principal countries of the Old World. "The French laws require that the patentee shall put and keep his invention in public use in France within two years from its date. Goodyear had, at great inconvenience and expense, endeavored to comply with this and with all other requirements of the French laws, and thought he had effectually done so; but the courts of France decided that he had not in every particular complied with the strict requisitions of the law, and that, therefore, his patent in France had become void. In England he was still more unfortunate. Having sent specimens of vulcanized fabrics to Charles Mackintosh & Co., in 1842, and having opened with them a negotiation for the sale of the secret of the invention or discovery, one of the partners of that firm, named Thomas Hancock, availing himself, as he admits, of the hints and opportunities thus presented to him, rediscovered, as he affirms, the process of vulcanization, and described it in a patent for England, which was enrolled on May 21, 1844, about five weeks after the specification and publication of the discovery to the world by Goodyear's patent for vulcanization in France. And the patent of Hancock, held good according to a peculiarity of English law, thus superseded Goodyear's English patent for vulcanization, which bore date a few days later. Goodyear, however, obtained the great council medal of the exhibition of all nations at London, the grand medal of the world's exhibition at Paris, and the ribbon of the Legion of Honor, presented by Napoleon III."

In his own country, Mr. Goodyear was scarcely less unfortunate. His patents were infringed and violated by others, even after the decision of the courts seemed to place his rights beyond question. He was too thoroughly the inventor and too little the man of business to protect himself from the robberies of the wretches who plundered him of the profits of his invention. It is said that his inability to manage sharp transactions made him the victim of many who held nominally fair business relations with him. The United States Commissioner of Patents, in 1858, thus spoke of his losses:

"No inventor, probably, has ever been so harassed, so trampled upon, so plundered by that sordid and licentious class of infringers known in the parlance of the world, with no exaggeration of phrase, as 'pirates.' The spoliation of their incessant guerrilla warfare upon his defenseless rights have, unquestionably, amounted to millions."

Failing to accomplish any thing in Europe, Mr. Goodyear returned to this country, and continued his labors. His health, never strong, gave way under the continued strain, and he died in New York in July, 1860, in the sixtieth year of his age, completely worn out. Notwithstanding his great invention-an invention which has made millions for those engaged in its manufacture-he died insolvent, and left his family heavily in debt. A few years after his death an effort was made to procure from Congress a further seven years' extension of his patent for vulcanization, for the benefit of his family and his creditors. The men who had trampled his rights under foot while living were resolved, however, that he should not have justice done him in death; and, through their influence, that august body, in strange contrast with its usual lavish generosity in the matter of land grants and the like, coldly declined to do any thing for the family of the man to whom civilization owes so much, and the effort proved abortive.

But, though unfortunate in a pecuniary sense, though he died without freeing himself from the embarrassments which haunted him through life, there can be no question that Charles Goodyear richly merits the place which we have given him in this gallery of "Our Self-made Men;" not only on account of the great merit and usefulness of his discovery or invention, but because that invention has been the source of many a "great fortune" to others, as it might, indeed, have been to him, had his rights been respected, or properly protected when infringed. It is sad to reflect that he died poor who has given wealth to so many, and accomplished results so beneficent to mankind. Yet he did not fail entirely of his reward in life; he lived to see his invention give rise to large factories in the United States, and in England, France, and Germany, which employ sixty thousand operatives, and produce over five hundred different kinds of articles, to the amount of eight millions of dollars annually. He lived to see boots and shoes, clothing, caps, hats, articles of commerce and of pleasure, mechanical, scientific, and surgical instruments, toys, belting for machinery, packing for the steam-engine, and many other articles now in common use, made of the material, the discovery and perfection of which cost him long and sorrowful years of toil. He lived to hear his name mentioned by millions as one of their greatest benefactors; to know that he had conferred upon the world benefits of which those who had robbed him could not deprive his fellow-men; and to feel that he had at length accomplished his mission-a mission which has been productive of good alone.

Footnote H: (return) O.B. Coolidge, of Woburn.

"THE MADHOUSE IS THE PROPER PLACE FOR HIM."

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares