Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the "Diamond Owl" intellectual game "What? Where? When?"
Liberal Arts
7 minutes for reading

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?
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In 1823, the Scottish chemist Charles Mackintosh accidentally stained the sleeve of his jacket with a solution of rubber and noticed that it had become waterproof. Soon, waterproof raincoats – macs – came into fashion.

But here’s the thing: on cold days they hardened and cracked, and on hot days they began to flow. Storing a mac has become a problem: in a cold place it will break, in a warm place it will fly apart.

What to do?

The answer is a little later.




Having dropped the ball into the river, Tanya really had reason to be upset – before the end of the 19th century, one could not even dream of such a cute toy. The ancient creators of football, like the Roman harpastum, sewed balls from leather and stuffed them with hay, moss or horsehair.

In general, there were difficulties with materials capable of springing, accumulating energy, and then quickly giving it away. Ancient catapults used hair for this purpose – mostly horse hair, but it happened that long women’s hair was also used. There was simply nothing else.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?

In ancient times, the sling was a very common weapon, not least because every boy had something similar to throw stones at small animals and at each other. They did not have slingshots and could not have – where would they get an elastic band for them?

There used to be a waterproof raincoat, but possibly a leather one. Who could afford it, escaped from the rain under an umbrella, if the social situation allowed – in China and Egypt it was allowed only to the pharaohs, emperors and higher ranks, and in Rome – to women.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?
Umbrella is only for the nobility




The situation with it, as with many others, began to change after the discovery of America by Columbus. Among other wonders, Columbus saw there an unusual Indian game with a rather heavy object, which, after being hit, bounced much better than leather balls familiar to Europeans.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?
Indian fresco about ball game

The natives used the same material from which these balls were made in an even stranger way – they smeared their feet and then held them over a burning fire. It hurt enough, but their legs were covered with a kind of waterproof stocking.

They also used it to make Indian pies waterproof – they covered all the seams on fragile boats with it, and water did not penetrate into them. This material was also suitable as a cosmetic glue, with the help of which the Indians sculpted their feather decorations in different places.

Columbus learned that this unusual material is just the sap of a certain tree, which flows from the cuts on it, and then freezes in air. He managed to find out that the Indians, according to the method of obtaining, call this material “tears of a tree” – in the local dialect “rubber”.




Columbus, of course, reported on his arrival about the curiosity he met. But he was so eager to interest the general sponsors of his expeditions, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, that, among other miracles he demonstrated, it was considered insignificant.

For more than two centuries, interest in this message in Europe was minimal. The colonists in America and, of course, the aborigines knew about the wonderful tears of the tree, continued to use them, but they did not consider it anything capable of arousing commercial interest. It exists and okay.

In the 30s of the 18th century, there was a debate about the shape of the Earth – is it flattened like a tangerine, or stretched out like a lemon? To resolve this dispute between citrus fruits, it was decided to send two expeditions to measure the meridian arc – to the pole, to Lapland, and to the equator, to South America, to Peru.

The scientist from the Peruvian expedition Charles Marie de La Condamine did not only complete the task (it turned out that the Earth looks more like a tangerine than a lemon), but also brought to Europe information about two plants that aroused his curiosity from the Peruvian forests.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?
Charles Marie de La Condamine

The first of them, to which Condamine gave the name tsinkhona (now we call it the cinchona tree), quickly became a sensation – its bark saved from malaria, a dangerous disease that was then practically incurable. And the second was just the Brazilian hevea, the juice of which was the very “tears of the tree” – “rubber”. Now we pronounce this word as “rubber”.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?
Hevea and rubber





Not everyone began to call the new material rubber. Condamine came up with the name “latex” for it, from the French “latte”, that is, coffee with milk. But in France the name “gomme”, from the Latin word “gummi” meaning “resin”, has stuck more.

The Russian name of the Peruvian rarity arose in a similar way. You’ve probably heard of the Greek wine retsina. They call it that because a little resin is added to it for preservation. Resin in Greek is “retsina”, hence the Russian word “rubber”.

The rational English went their own way, deriving the name from the useful properties of this substance they found. Scientist Joseph Priestley discovered that pieces of dried resin perfectly wipe away lines drawn with a slate pencil. From the phrase “to rub out”, meaning “to wipe”, came the English name – “rubber”.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?
Joseph Priestley

But so far there have been more names for hevea juice than uses. It remained stable only over a narrow range of time and temperature. From time to time it dried out, from the heat it turned into gruel, from the cold it became brittle – you almost keep track of it, and it is already something else.




Do not bring the same latex from Peru just for the sake of rubber bands for erasing! Its strength was so low that the slingshot has been remaining an unrealizable dream of children for a long time. There were already balls for existing games, but football, volleyball and basketball would not appear until the end of the 19th century.

But one of the most powerful forces of nature is not even knowledge, but the desire to earn. In 1791, the English manufacturer Samuel Peel, having treated the fabric with a solution of rubber in turpentine, made it waterproof and tried to sew raincoats out of it – let’s say, without much success.

In less than thirty years, in France they learned to weave a special fabric from rubber threads in half with cotton. From such a fabric, the most important part of the men’s toilet was obtained with a particularly high quality, which did not allow a man to lose the most important thing (we are, of course, talking about suspenders).

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?
Suspenders were all the rage…

The first success of rubberized fabric caused a certain demand for it. They began to bring rubber from overseas, looking for new solutions for its use. But the already listed disadvantages limited the possibility of using overseas resin – it melts, then it cracks.




The son of a Glasgow dyer, Charles Mackintosh, became interested in science early. In addition, he clearly possessed an inventive and commercial flair. It was he who opened the first alum factory in Scotland and, together with John Tennant, invented bleaching of fabric with quicklime.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?
Charles Mackintosh

He managed to use solvent naphtha, one of the distillation products of coal, to dissolve rubber. With the help of this solution, he learned to lay two pieces of fabric with a thin layer of rubber and from this material sew waterproof raincoats, which, of course, were called macs.

The success of the mac is undeniable – there are still such clothes, and such a word, and even a company that started sewing macs. They also penetrated into Russian prose – remember Leskov’s Lefty? There, the British show to the tsar “resin waterproofs for the cavalry” – that is what they are.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?
19th century Mackintosh

But all the same, the instability to temperature changes remained – somewhat less than that of the previous samples, but quite noticeable. The owners of macs did not wear them in the cold – they do not warm, nor in the heat – they are stuffy. You just forget it in the sun – and it flowed in streams!


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The United States is closer to Peru than European countries, and it is not surprising that they also became interested in hevea juice there. A certain sea captain brought to the United States 500 pairs of hard shoes, prepared in an almost Indian way – these were the first galoshes, and they found a sale.

And the Bostonian Chaffee learned to apply a thin layer of latex mixed with turpentine and soot onto the fabric. He made from such fabric not only clothes, but also roofs for huts and caravans, shoes and even hats. In the United States, a “rubber boom” began – in two years Chaffee’s company rose in price from $30,000 to $ 500,000, and there was simply no end to the customers.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?
Antique rubber products

But after a while, a nightmare ensued – rubber clothes, hats and the roofs of vans turned into a liquid mess and exuded such an eerie smell that they had to be buried in the ground. By the end of 1836, it seemed to everyone that the rubber industry was doomed to perish.

However, not long before it, a man bought a rubber lifebuoy from Chaffee’s store. Soon he returned to the store and said that he knew how to improve the valve to inflate it. The salesman remarked, “You’d better know how to improve rubber”. He would have run away from there in horror, but he really wondered – how exactly? His name was Charles Goodyear.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to store waterproof raincoats correctly?
Charles Goodyear




If you mix latex only with turpentine and soot, does the material come out not very good? So what’s the problem – let’s mix it with something else! Let’s try, and sooner or later we’ll find what to add to the rubber to get a quality product.

As one singer will sing almost two centuries later, “if you suffer for a long time, something will work out”. Goodyear agreed to suffer…




Mitchell Wilson, the author of fictional biographies of American inventors, at the very beginning of Goodyear’s life, utters a terrible phrase in his address, “This man had no right to success”. How can trial and error help out if a hundred centuries is not enough for all possible trials?

Fortunately for Goodyear, he didn’t know it. He mixed rubber with everything that catches his eye or comes into confusion: salt, pepper, castor oil, sugar, river sand, ink, even cheese and soup – it would be better if he ate it! Of course, there was no sense in it.

After the first experiments, which seemed successful to him, he borrowed money from a friend and opened a shop selling galoshes. On the very first hot day, they turned into a disgusting mass, which smelled so much that it was unthinkable to enter the shop without a gas mask, which was discovered a century later.

The mixture of magnesia and rubber unexpectedly gave a result that seemed decent. Goodyear made piano covers and book wrappers out of it, some people liked them, but after a month they shrank again. He sold the house, took the family to the village and went to ask friends for help. One fellow found him a free room to work, the other one agreed to sell chemicals on credit.

A mixture of rubber, magnesia and quicklime gave him hope, but not for long – a drop of any weak acid, even apple juice, destroyed it. Once Charles painted the sample with bronze paint, he did not like it, he reduced the paint with aqua regia and the stickiness disappeared! We must try again…




Of course, if there is a result, you can always find it by trial and error, and that’s great. But it can take hundreds or thousands of years, which is not so pleasant. So, among other things, patience is important and luck is desirable. Goodyear found the first, but the second was more difficult.

A financial collapse began, those who helped him went bankrupt, and he became so impoverished that he mortgaged the last remnants of his property. He simply starved, sometimes he was so weak from hunger that he could hardly stage new experiments. But he continued all the same as long as he had the strength.

For advertising, he made himself a suit of rubberized fabric and tried to walk in it – it’s not in the coldest climate… Someone who was looking for him was told, “If you see a person in a rubber coat, rubber boots, a rubber top hat and a rubber wallet in his pocket, and not a single cent in his rubber wallet, you can rest assured that it is Goodyear”.

He improved the quality of his product again and received a government order for 150 messenger bags. Having earned some money, he left with his family on vacation, and when he returned, he saw that the bags remained intact on the surface, and the inner layers, worse treated with acid, melted again.

Charles again lost the ability to feed the children. In desperation, he moved to a neighboring town to live with his brother-in-law, who sheltered him out of mercy with his family. Goodyear had nothing else to experiment on – except for the last pennies, to the detriment of the most important needs. But he continued to do so.




Does it really happen as the saying goes: “No great loss without some small profit”. It seems like it happens when there is no one else to help. Staggering with fatigue, Charles did not look at one of his experiments, left a sample of a mixture of rubber, sulfur and soot by the heated stove, and it was completely burned.

The other one would not have noticed, but he could not think of anything else and saw that the narrow strip of the sample had not burned, but became exactly the way he wanted. He cut this piece out, took it out of the house and nailed it to the wall. Despite the cold, it did not crack, and it did not suffer from the fire. Everything was OK!

The French company offered the inventor a lot of money for his old designs – he turned them down, saying that he would soon come up with a better way. The shopkeeper refused him a loan, the potential sponsor went bankrupt, the family ate wild roots, but he was looking for a temperature regime in which the rubber would come out like a piece he miraculously found on a burnt sample.

And he found such a regime! They began to turn to him again and were no longer disappointed – it was a real rubber! Goodyear named the heating process beautifully – “vulcanization”, paid off the debts, and during his lifetime 60,000 people were already employed in rubber factories.

Rubber was useful not only for waterproof raincoats and galoshes – in the development of electricity, it was appreciated as an excellent means of insulation. And when cars came along, it turned out to be a wonderful material for tires. The real “rubber boom” began again.




Not only in programming, but in almost everything, a wonderful rule is true: “If you don’t know what to do, do something”. It may not work, but if you do nothing, it will not work for sure.

If you understand that there is no benefit from some new phenomenon for you – forget about it. And if it is not clear whether there is any benefit from it – try to understand! And it will be very offensive when someone else notices this benefit that you have not noticed…

If someone says to you, “Do only your own business!”, answer that it is not his business. You have to do your job well, but who forbids you to do anything else? Condamine did not only measure the arc of the meridian – he discovered two of the most valuable plants, and he is remembered for it.

The well will reach the oil reservoir if the driller has the patience. If not, he will spit and go off to drill elsewhere, while someone more patient will drill a slightly deeper well and clog the oil gusher. Although it is not necessary…

Is it possible to expose loved ones to hardship for the sake of your wonderful idea? Do not look for a universal answer – here Goodyear achieved success in the end, and how many equally stubborn people could not do it? You still have to decide for yourself. And be responsible for the results of your decision.

All illustrations are from open sources

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