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British Industrial History

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Charles Macintosh

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Charles Macintosh (1766 – 1843) was a Scottish chemist, known internationally as the inventor of the mackintosh raincoat, the waterproof fabrics for which he developed between 1823 and his death in 1843.

1766 Born in Glasgow on 29 December. His father George Macintosh owned a dyeing business George Macintosh and Co.

Charles devoted all his spare time to science, particularly chemistry, Before he was twenty he resigned his clerkship to take up the manufacture of chemicals. In this he was highly successful, inventing various new processes.

While he was trying to find uses for the waste products of gasworks, Macintosh discovered that coal-tar naphtha dissolved india rubber. He took wool cloth and painted one side with the dissolved rubber preparation and placed another layer of wool cloth on top.

This led to his invention of waterproof fabrics, the essence of his patent being the cementing of two thickness's of India-rubber together, the India-rubber being made soluble by the action of the naphtha.

This created the first practical waterproof fabric, but the fabric was not perfect.

It was easy to puncture when it was seamed, the natural oil in wool caused the rubber cement to deteriorate. In cold weather the fabric became stiffer and in hot weather the fabric became sticky.

1824 Description of the process of his water-proof cloth [1]

1825 It was then that the ‘father of the UK rubber industry’, Thomas Hancock, stepped in. He was aware of Macintosh’s work and took out a licence to manufacture the patented “waterproof double textures”. Hancock’s solutions were able to have a higher rubber content than those of Macintosh. This gave a more uniform film on the cloth with less penetration through it and with less odour. Hancock quickly realized that his products were significantly superior to those of Macintosh, and eventually, with much secrecy on both sides, they co-operated, although remaining separate corporate entities, to improve their products.

1831 Mutual trust slowly developed and Thomas Hancock became a partner in Charles Macintosh and Co, their two companies merged and two years later the combined company bought Thomas’ brother’s specialist rubber business which manufactured a range of rubber medical devices.

When vulcanized rubber was invented in 1839, Macintosh's fabrics improved since the new rubber could withstand temperature changes.

For his various chemical discoveries he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

1843 Died on 25 July

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Mechanics Magazine 1824/07/17
  • [1] Wikipedia
  • [2] About.com:Inventors - Charles Macintosh