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Charles Goodyear & The History of Rubber

Daniel Webster Defends Charles Goodyear During His Patent Trial

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Statue of Daniel Webster

Statue of Daniel Webster

getty Images/VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm
In 1852, in Trenton, New Jersey, two men appeared in the Circuit Court of the United States, the legal giants of their day, to argue the case of Goodyear vs. Day for patent infringement.

Rufus Choate represented the defendant (Day) and Daniel Webster the plaintiff (Goodyear). Daniel Webster, in the course of his plea, pointed to his client. The man whose cause he pleaded was a man of fifty-two, who looked fifteen years older, sallow and emaciated from disease. This was Charles Goodyear, inventor of the process which put rubber into the service of the world.

Trial of Charles Goodyear

The following five paragraphs are the words of Daniel Webster defending Charles Goodyear.

"And now is Charles Goodyear the discoverer of this invention of vulcanized rubber? Is Charles Goodyear the first man upon whose mind the idea ever flashed, or to whose intelligence the fact ever was disclosed, that by carrying heat to a certain height it would cease to render plastic the India Rubber and begin to harden and metallize it? Is there a man in the world who found out that fact before Charles Goodyear?

If Charles Goodyear did not make this discovery, who did make it? Who did make it? Why, if our learned opponent had said he should endeavor to prove that some one other than Mr. Charles Goodyear had made this discovery, that would have been very fair.

On the contrary they do not meet Charles Goodyear's claim by setting up a distinct claim of anybody else. They attempt to prove that he was not the inventor by little shreds and patches of testimony. Here a little bit of sulphur, and there a little parcel of lead; here a little degree of heat, a little hotter than would warm a man's hands, and in which a man could live for ten minutes or a quarter of an hour; and yet they never seem to come to the point. I think it is because their materials did not allow them to come to the manly assertion that somebody else did make this invention, giving to that somebody a local habitation and a name. We want to know the name, and the habitation, and the location of the man upon the face of this globe, who invented vulcanized rubber, if it be not he, who now sits before us.

Well there are birds which fly in the air, seldom lighting, but often hovering. Now I think this is a question not to be hovered over, not to be brooded over, and not to be dealt with as an infinitesimal quantity of small things. It is a case calling for a manly admission and a manly defense. I ask again, if there is anybody else than Charles Goodyear who made this invention, who is he?

Is the discovery so plain that it might have come about by accident? It is likely to work important changes in the arts everywhere. It introduces quite a new material into the manufacture of the arts, that material being nothing less than elastic metal. It is hard like metal and as elastic as pure original gum elastic. Somebody has made this invention. That is certain. Who is he? Mr. Hancock has been referred to. But he expressly acknowledges Charles Goodyear to be the first inventor. I say that there is not in the world a human being that can stand up and say that it is his invention, except the man who is sitting at that table."

Charles Goodyear - Sole Inventor of Vulcanized Rubber

The court found for the plaintiff, and this decision established for all time the claim of the American, Charles Goodyear, to be the sole inventor of vulcanized rubber.
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