In 1830 Charles Goodyear went into business with his father and the two went bankrupt. Thereafter, life was a bumpy ride for Charles. In those days they used to send people who couldn't pay their debts to prison and the young man went to prison several times.
In 1834 Goodyear became interested in rubber. In those days it was thought that rubber could be a good waterproofing material and many inventors were working at finding ways to make rubber serve such a purpose. The trouble with rubber was that it became leathery in cold weather and soft and sticky in hot weather. If rubber was to be put to any practical use a way had to be found to make rubber more stable.
Goodyear did not know a thing about chemistry but he went to work on the problem.
One day while he was experimenting with a mixture of rubber and sulphur, some of it fell on a hot stove. He scraped it off and found to his astonishment that the warm mixture was not sticky but dry. He heated the mixture to a high temperature and cooled it and found that he had a sample of rubber that did not turn sticky in hot weather or rigid in cold but remained soft and springy at all times.
The process of adding sulphur to rubber is now called vulcanisation.
Goodyear's discovery founded the rubber industry in which many men later amassed huge fortunes. But Goodyear himself did not get a penny from it. He died, worn-out and in debt on 1st July 1860.