The rubber industry in the United States can hardly be said to have had any real and tangible existence until the discovery of the process of vulcanization in 1844 by Charles Goodyear. The first rubber ever imported into this country was brought into Boston in the year 1800 and came in In that same year a patent was granted to one Jacob Hummel, of Philadelphia, for a gum-elastic varnish; of which, however, there seems to have been no further mention. Some ten years later, in 1823, a Boston sea-captain, coming from South American ports, brought with him a pair of gilded rubber shoes which excited the greatest interest. Two years later, 500 pairs of rubber shoes, made by the natives along the Amazon, were brought into Boston, this time without the fantastical refinement of gilding. They were exceedingly thick, clumsy, and unshapely shoes, and yet they sold readily, bringing from $3 to $5 per pair as they were found that they were a secure protection against dampness. This was the entering wedge for the Para rubber shoe.
It naturally suggested itself to a great many enterprising minds that if rubber, when crude, had so little value (such lots as had already been imported had sold at five cents a pound), and when manufactured into shoes commanded so high a figure, there must be an excellent profit in rubber manufacture; and so people began to study the rubber problem. Among them was Mr. Chaffee, a manufacturer of patent leather in Roxbury, Mass. It occurred to him that if he could manufacture a leather with a varnish of rubber, which would give not only a smooth and finished surface, but would render the leather impervious to water, he would have a material of obvious usefulness. He began to experiment in 1831 and soon discovered that by dissolving the crude rubber in spirits of turpentine and adding a quantity of lampblack, he obtained a varnish which, when spread over leather or cloth, gave a hard, smooth, impervious surface. He formed the Roxbury India-Rubber Company, the first to engage in rubber manufacture in the United States, in 1833.
In 1833, Charles Goodyear, was a bankrupt hardware merchant of Philadelphia. Goodyear read about Chaffee’s new product and was greatly interested therein. Born in New Haven, the son of a Connecticut manufacturer, he had acquired by inheritance and by association a very considerable inventive ability. He had been in partnership with his father, conducting a branch store in Philadelphia for the sale of their Connecticut-made hardware; but owing to an over-extension of credits the firm had become insolvent, and Goodyear, then a young man but a trifle past thirty, found himself out of business and out of health, with a large load of debt upon his shoulders. He thought he saw in this new product, then being put upon the market, an opportunity to retrieve the family fortunes. Accordingly, on his next visit to New York he called at the office of the Roxbury Rubber Company and examined some of their goods, and particularly their life-preservers. Thereafter, the history of the rubber industry in the United States is little else than the personal history of Charles Goodyear.
Two years after visiting Chaffee, in 1840, Goodyear was able to interest parties in his new system of vulcanization. In that year he secured the assistance of two New York capitalists and built a factory in Springfield, Mass. Four years later, he took out a patent for preparing rubber by the process of vulcanization, and began to sell licenses for the manufacture of various articles under this patent. The license to manufacture rubber boots and shoes was sold to Leverette Candee, of New Haven, the founder of L. Candee & Co. The license to manufacture rubber gloves he granted to the Goodyear's India-Rubber Glove Manufacturing Company, of Naugatuck, Conn. The license to manufacture door-springs, which seemed a very trivial branch of the industry, but which later grew to considerable proportions, was granted to Daniel Hodgeman, of New York; and various other licenses for the manufacture of other goods were given out under his patent to different companies, which immediately began the manufacture of rubber goods under these licenses.
Several other companies, in addition to the Candee Company, bought licenses to manufacture boots and shoes; among them Ford & Company (now the Meyer Rubber Company), and the New Brunswick Company, both of New Brunswick, N. J., and the Hayward (which later grew into the Colchester Rubber Company), and the Goodyear's Metallic-Rubber Shoe Company, of Naugatuck, Conn.
The Civil War gave a great impetus to the rubber industry. This was particularly true of the clothing branch; blankets were needed for the soldiers, and the government gave out large contracts. The attempt was made, and with some success, to construct rubber pontoons to be used in military operations.
The manufacture of mechanical goods took a rapid start shortly after the war. This was owing to a considerable extent to the great increase of railroad building at that time. The railroads called for large quantities of packing, and for hose to be used in conveying steam and gas. The impetus given to manufacturing in general made an increased demand for rubber belting. The first rubber belt was patented in this country in 1836, but this particular branch of the rubber industry reached no considerable size until after the war, when rubber belting was in demand for mills, factories, and elevators, and especially for all outdoor machinery.
The making of rubber tires for bicycles, and to a growing extent for other vehicles, took its rise in the 1870s with the solid tire. That gave way to the cushion tire, which was displaced by the now universal pneumatic tire.
Another important branch of the rubber industry in the United States is the making of druggists' sundries. The pioneer in this industry was the Union Rubber Company, located in Harlem. It derived its license direct from Goodyear, and began to manufacture druggists' sundries early in the fifties, making syringes, water-bottles, bandages, air-pillows, air-cushions, and a variety of other druggists' articles.
For twenty years after the invention of hard rubber two companies practically enjoyed its monopoly —the India-Rubber Comb Company and the American Hard-Rubber Company; but other companies entered the field after the expiration of the Goodyear patent.
A very important event in the history of the rubber boot and shoe industry in the United States occurred in the fall of 1892, when the United States Rubber Company purchased nearly all of the large rubber footwear interests in the United States. Forming the Rubber Trust.
(Taken from 1795-1895: One hundred years of American commerce).