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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 2 - Touched by a Goddess (Eureka Moments Week)

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

Sam's Episode Notes: The completely accidental invention of rubber Yes, this is the story of how one of the most important Inventions of modern times came about as the result of a completely accidental discovery, by someone who spent years blindly flailing about for it. It's often said that a true Eureka moment isn't sitting in a bath and having a brilliant thought, it's noticing an odd result when you're trying to do something completely different. The Eureka moment should be more accurately dubbed the 'hmmm, that's odd' moment, which is apparently what Alexander Fleming said when he discovered penicillin. So, the discovery of rubber. Or rather, of a better kind of rubber. Because, you see, the rubber we Use today in shoes, tyres etc, is not just any rubber. Because any Old rubber is absolutely shite.

Rubber was dubbed the wonder Material of the mid-1800s. It could be used for anything from boots to tyres to life vests. Unfortunately for all the people making all of these things, there was one tiny problem. It only worked in spring and autumn. In summer, it melted into a blob, and in winter it cracked and disintegrated. So your rubber life vest was fine if the ship went down in March, but if it went under in January, it would crumble into the sea, and in summer it would melt into a blob and melt over your head. Not very useful, and it cost the businessmen who invested in it a fortune. Because every time anyone bought anything rubber, it fell apart and got bought back to the shop. Rubber ruined lives. Enter Charles Goodyear. An accidental genius and hopeless businessman, who saw what was happening in the failing rubber industry and thought, I'll have me some of that'. And he did. He first experienced rubber in 1834 (and once you experience rubber you never go back) when visiting a factory near New York. A factory which admitted rubber was rubbish, and was in fact secretly having to bury tens of thousands of dollars of returned stock in a giant hole so as not to scare investors. So, ignoring all the signs and the shelves full of ruined stock he spent the next five years ruining his family's life by trotting around the US trying to get anyone he could find to invest in rubber, whilst also trying to find a way of improving it. And when I say ruining his family's lives, I mean it. It's never a good thing when you discover your father is into rubber, Tom, it's even worse when it's in a mad scientist way rather than a seedy back alley way. He spent everything the family had on putting shit into rubber and mixing it to try and get it to stay in shape. He sold his kids' school textbooks and the family furniture to buy chemicals. He ruined every pot, pan and teacup the family had to melt rubber into, mix with whatever the hell he could find lying around, and stir into a hot sticky shitty mess. Everything from lime to paint stipper went in the pan. Bear in mind this bloke was not a chemist so what he was doing was basically pure blind chance, though along the way he did manage to make rubber that was a bit prettier and smoother. But it was still shit and melty. When he went to prison for not paying his debts, he smuggled in chemicals and played with rubber in his cell until he was released. There are no words for how much Charles Goodyear loved rubber. It was HIS THING. He did have some business success along the way, offering to make waterproof mailbags for the US postal service, which worked until it wasn't raining, when they melted all over the mail. And he made some small change by working at rubber factories.Because Goodyear really, really loved rubber. I mean god he loved it. In fact, he loved it so much that it's said he was flailing about madly in a sales pitch one day in 1839 and accidentally spilled some rubber he'd mixed with sulphur onto a hot stove. At least that's the rumour. It might not be that exciting in real life. Rather than melt, the rubber hardened in the heat. He'd done it! He'd gone bloody mad and nearly killed himself through chemical poisoning and his children couldn't read because he'd sold their books. But, you know, fucking rubber! The process became known as vulcanisation, after the roman God of fire, and you'd hope that Goodyear would become a hero and a millionaire after his momentous discovery. Well, no. Remember I said he was a useless businessman? He sent samples of his new mega-rubber to all the big rubber manufacturers to drum up support and sales. Except he sent his samples without any kind of paperwork or ownership documents, and without getting patents outside of the US. A couple of British engineers quickly noticed the yellow tinge of the rubber, worked out what he'd done, and claimed the discovery as their own. Goodyear sued and lost, and died in 1860 $200,000 in debt. His family did eventually get some money from the discovery and several other rubber-related inventions Charles had bothered to patent properly, and the Goodyear tyre company was named in his honour. So there's some legacy there, but one of the most important inventions of our time was made completely accidentally by an obsessive rubber addict who happened to spill some on the hob. The end. Oh, and his biography was printed in a rubber book. The pervert. Tom's notes:



Story-telling tool

Ancient story…


· Second oldest existing book in Western literature

· 8th C BC

Journey Home

· 10 years to get home to Ithaca from Trojan Wars

· Adventures!

· Athena helps (making people look nice, whispering during sleep), Poseidon doesn’t


· Telemachus, Penelope and Suitors


· Eumaeus; swineherd

· Telemachus revelation

· The plan!

At home

· Begger disguise

· Melanthius

· Argus the hound

· Suitors

Odysseus begs to see which is good or bad, but Athene is going to kill them all anyway; Antinuous worst of the lot

· Irus the begger turf war

· Eurycleia


Scar – boar hunt

Drops basin

Odysseus threatens


· Bow and 12 axe heads

· Eumeaus and cowherd

· Strings bow

· Barny!

· Penelope

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