In 1823 Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh was testing various materials in his lab when he stumbled across a perfect combination. During his tests he was experimenting with the gaseous waste products of coal. He noticed that coal-tar naphtha dissolved rubber demonstrating its waterproof qualities. He then painted some cloth with the soluble rubber making a material that he decided to patent. It was the first ever-waterproof fabric.
The material had two early issues, stickiness and smell. The first problem was sorted by Macintosh placing two sheets of coal-tar naphtha together but the second lingered and even today many raincoats have that distinct smell. Macintosh’s invention didn’t take off instantly and companies were unwilling to invest due to fears that the odour would put off buyers. The only group who did take it on was the army who recognised the uses of waterproof materials in warfare.
The turning point came after fellow inventor Thomas Hancock improved the efficiency of the material by adding more rubber. Mackintosh was pleased by the additions and Hancock was made a partner in his firm. The Macintosh coats still had the problem of becoming sticky in hot weather but this was ended with the widespread application of vulcanised rubber in 1839, which was much better at resisting temperature changes. This was the breakthrough that Macintosh needed and with this the raincoat or ‘Mac’ become the popular garment it is today.
1001 Inventions That Changed the World
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