Invention that Added Flexibility to Our Lives, Literally!

Products made from rubber have come to be a part of our day to day life in the form of automobile tires. It is used for several other applications as well. However, natural rubber becomes solid, cracks in winter and melts in summer. This unstable nature of rubber made lives of rubber product manufacturers difficult. Strong minds, however, don’t go down without a fight! It was at this stage that “vulcanization of rubber” was invented by Charles Goodyear. He was awarded a US patent for vulcanized rubber (Patent# 3,633) on June 15th, 1844.

Vulcanization is the process of chemically treating rubber and converting it to a more malleable form which can withstand heat and cold. In this process, sulfur or equivalent curatives or accelerators, which when added to natural rubber, forms cross-links between individual polymer chains, thus giving the rubber superior mechanical properties. Some sources indicate that Goodyear accidentally invented the vulcanization process. The story goes like this.

“Once, while experimenting, Goodyear accidentally combined rubber and sulfur upon a hot stove. Much to his surprise, the rubber didn’t melt and when heated further, the rubber hardened. Further experiments resulted in Goodyear inventing the vulcanization process.”

However, Goodyear was not the first person to patent the vulcanization process. Thomas Hancock, a British inventor, was the first person to do so. Hancock was awarded a British patent on May 21st, 1844, and a month later, Goodyear obtained his US patent. Goodyear claimed that Hancock would have analyzed his rubber samples and the knowledge that this analysis provided him with, might have helped him to invent the vulcanization mechanism. There was no notable controversy with regard to this matter.

The rest is history. Vulcanization turned out to be an ultimate game changer. Most of the rubber products that are currently being used that demand the flexibility of rubber, use vulcanized rubber. The company, Goodyear, which manufactures the prestigious Goodyear tires, was named after Charles Goodyear, as a symbol of honor and respect. Being a motorist myself, I have the utmost gratitude to this legend who made our lives more enjoyable, to say the least, with this path-breaking invention.

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