Imagine turning your pencil upside down and trying to erase a mistake on a very hot day only to find you’re rubbing your paper with goo! Or, on a very cold day, you find your eraser has cracked into little pieces. Well, until a lucky accident in the workshop of Charles Goodyear in 1839, that was what always happened to rubber. It melted in the heat and cracked in the cold.
Since rubber was water repellent, the United States Post Office announced that if someone could find a process to make rubber useful in every temperature range, it would then be used in mail pouches to protect mail beingb sent across the country.
Charles Goodyear was one of thousands of inventors who worked to find that elusive process. He tried rubbing various chemicals into raw rubber to change its consistency. Nothing worked until one day when he added some sulfur to a batch of rubber. He got the same result: no change. He thought about adding another chemical later. As he reached up to put the batch on a shelf over a wood-burning stove, it slid out of the dish and fell onto the top of the hot stove. The sulfur in the rubber heated up. “What a terrible smell,” he thought. “I’d better scrape the goo off before I do anything else.”
To his surprise, there was no goo. The rubber didn’t melt. It was soft, but firm. He thought, “What if it was the heat that made the difference?” He tried rubbing other substances into the raw rubber and heating those combinations. But only the sulfur worked. Goodyear named his process “vulcanization”, after Vulcan, the Roman god of volcanoes and fire.
Once rubber could be turned into a flexible and usable product with vulcanization, many things would be made of it, including one very special item invented by his son, Charles Goodyear Jr. That was the world’s first pair of sneakers.
Here ‘s a great video discussing more about vulcanized rubber and its inventor:
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