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so offensive that they had been obliged to bury it. New ingredients had been employed, new machinery applied, but still the articles would dissolve. In some cases, shoes had borne the heat of one summer, and melted the next. The wagon-covers became sticky in the sun, and rigid in the cold. The directors were at their wits' end ; — since it required two years to test a new process, and meanwhile they knew not whether the articles made by it were valuable or worthless. If they stopped manufacturing, that was certain ruin. If they went on, they might find the product of a whole winter dissolving on their hands. The capital of the Company was already so far exhausted, that, unless the true method were speedily discovered, it would be compelled to wind up its affairs. The agent urged Mr. Goodyear not to waste time upon minor improvements, but to direct all his efforts to finding out the secret of successfully working the material itself. The Company could not buy his improved inflator ; but let him learn how to make an India-rubber that would stand the summer's heat, and there was scarcely any price which it would not gladly give for the secret.
The worst apprehensions of the directors of this Company were realized. The public soon became tired of buying Indiarubber shoes that could only be saved during the summer by putting them into a refrigerator. In the third year of the mania, India-rubber stock began to decline, and Roxbury itself finally fell to two dollars and a half. Before the close of 1836, all the Companies had ceased to exist, their fall involving many hundreds of families in heavy loss. The clumsy, shapeless shoes from South America were the only ones which the people would buy. It was generally supposed that the secret of their resisting heat was that they were smoked with the leaves of a certain tree, peculiar to South America, and that nothing else in nature would answer the purpose.
The two millions of dollars lost by these Companies had one result which has proved to be worth many times that sum; it led Charles Goodyear to undertake the investigation of India-rubber. That chance conversation with the agent of the Roxbury Company fixed his destiny. If he were alive to read these lines, he .
would, however, protest against the use of such a word as chance in this connection. He really appears to have felt himself “called” to study India-rubber. He says himself:
“ 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 inaking 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 mind to the development of the properties of matter, in his own way, at the time when they are specially needed, influencing some mind for every work or calling. . . . . Were he to refrain from expressing his views thus briefly, he would ever feel that he had done violence to his sentiments.”
This is modestly said, but his friends assure us that he felt it earnestly and habitually. It was, indeed, this steadfast conviction of the possibility of attaining his object, and his religious devotion to it, that constituted his capital in his new business. He had little knowledge of chemistry, and an aversion to complicated calculations. He was a ruined man; for, after a long struggle with misfortune, the firm of A. Goodyear and Sons had surrendered their all to their creditors, and still owed thirty thousand dollars. He had a family, and his health was not robust. Upon returning home after conversing with the agent of the Roxbury Company, he was arrested for debt, and compelled to reside within the prison limits. He melted his first pound of India-rubber while he was living within those limits, and struggling to keep out of the jail itself. Thus he began his experiments in circumstances as little favorable as can be imagined. There were only two things in his favor. One was his conviction that India-rubber could be subjugated, and that he was the man destined to subjugate it. The other was, that, India-rubber having fallen to its old price, he could continue his labors as long as he could raise five cents and procure access to a fire. The very odium in which businessmen held India-rubber, though it long retarded his final triumph, placed an abundance of the native gum within the means even of
an inmate of the debtor's prison, in which he often was during the whole period of his experimenting. He was seldom out of jail a whole year from 1835 to 1841, and never out of danger of arrest.
In a small house in Philadelphia, in the winter of 1834-35, he began his investigations. He melted his gum by the domestic fire, kneaded it with his own hands, spread it upon a marble slab, and rolled it with a rolling-pin. A prospect of success flattered him from the first and lured him on. He was soon able to produce sheets of India-rubber which appeared as firm as those imported, and which tempted a friend to advance him a sum of money sufficient to enable him to manufacture several hundred pairs of shoes. He succeeded in embossing his shoes in various patterns, which gave them a novel and elegant appearance. Mindful, however, of the disasters of the Roxbury Company, he had the prudence to store his shoes until the summer. The hot days of June reduced them all to soft and stinking paste. His friend was discouraged, and refused him further aid. For his own part, such experiences as this, though they dashed his spirits for a while, stimulated him to new efforts.
It now occurred to him, that perhaps it was the turpentine used in dissolving the gum, or the lampblack employed to color it, that spoiled his product. He esteemed it a rare piece of luck to procure some barrels of the sap not smoked, and still liquid. On going to the shed where the precious sap was deposited, he was accosted by an Irishman in his employ, who, in high glee, informed him that he had discovered the secret, pointing to his overalls, which he had dipped into the sap, and which were nicely coated with firm India-rubber. For a moment he thought that Jerry might have blundered into the secret. The man, however, sat down on a barrel near the fire, and, on attempting to rise, found himself glued to his seat and his legs stuck together. He had to be cut out of his overalls. The master proceeded to experiment with the sap, but soon discovered that the handsome white cloth made of it bore the heat no better than that which was produced in the usual manner.
It is remarkable, that inventors seldom derive direct aid from
the science of their day. James Watt modestly ascribes to Professor Black part of the glory of his improvements in the steam-engine; but it seems plain from his own narrative, that he made his great invention of the condenser without any assistance. Professor Black assisted to instruct and form him; but the flash of genius, which made the steam-engine what we now see it, was wholly his own. The science of Glasgow was diligently questioned by him upon the defects of the old engine, but it gave him no hint of the remedy. It was James Watt, mathematical-instrument maker, earning fourteen shillings a week, who brooded over his little model until the conception of the condenser burst upon him, as he was taking his Sunday afternoon stroll on Glasgow Green. Goodyear had a similar experience. Philadelphia has always been noted for its chemists and its chemical works, and that city still supplies the greater part of the country with manufactured drugs and chemists' materials. Nevertheless, though Goodyear explained his difficulties to professors, physicians, and chemists, none of them could give him valuable information; none suggested an experiment that produced a useful result. We know not, indeed, whether science has ever explained his final success.
Satisfied that nothing could be done with India-rubber pure and simple, he concluded that a compound of some substance with India-rubber could alone render the gum available. He was correct in this conjecture, but it remained to be discovered whether there was such a substance in nature. He tried every. thing he could think of. For a short time he was elated with the result of his experiments with magnesia, mixing half a pound of magnesia with a pound of gum. This compound had the advantage of being whiter than the pure sap. It was so firm that he used it as leather in the binding of a book. In a few weeks, however, he had the mortification of seeing his elegant white book-covers fermenting and softening. Afterwards, they grew as hard and brittle as shell, and so they remain to this day.
By this time, the patience of his friends and his own little fund of money were both exhausted; and, one by one, the relics of his former prosperity, even to his wife's trinkets, found their way to the pawnbroker. He was a sanguine man, as inventors need to be, always feeling that he was on the point of succeeding. The very confidence with which he announced a new conception served at length to close all ears to his solicitations. In the second year of his investigation he removed his family to the country, and went to New York, in quest of some one wlio had still a little faith in India-rubber. His credit was then at so low an ebb that he was obliged to deposit with the landlord a quantity of linen, spun by his excellent wife. It was never redeemed. It was sold at auction to pay the first quarter's rent; and his furniture also would have been seized, but that he had taken the precaution to sell it himself in Philadelphia, and had placed in his cottage articles of too little value to tempt the hardest creditor.
In New York, - the first resort of the enterprising and the last refuge of the unfortunate, -- he found two old friends; one of whom lent him a room in Gold Street for a laboratory, and the other, a druggist, supplied him with materials on credit. Again his hopes were flattered by an apparent success. By boiling his compound of gum and magnesia in quicklime and water, an article was produced which seemed to be all that he could desire. Some sheets of India-rubber made by this process drew a medal at the fair of the American Institute in 1835, and were much commended in the newspapers. Nothing could exceed the smoothness and firmness of the surface of these sheets; nor have they to this day been surpassed in these particulars. He obtained a patent for the process, manufactured a considerable quantity, sold his product readily, and thought his difficulties were at an end. In a few weeks his hopes were dashed to the ground. He found that a drop of weak acid, such as apple-juice or vinegar and water, instantly annihilated the effect of the lime, and made the beautiful surface of his cloth sticky.
Undaunted, he next tried the experiment of mixing quicklime with pure gum. He tells us that, at this time, he used to prepare a gallon jug of quicklime at his room in Gold Street, and carry it on his shoulder to Greenwich Village, distant three miles, where he had access to horse-power for working his compound. This experiment, too, was a failure. The lime in a short time appeared