Charles Macintosh

Born in Glasgow, where the rain falls often but softly, Macintosh was the son of a factory owner producing chemical dyes. He left school to work as a clerk, but was obviously possessed of a curious mind and attended scientific lectures, notably those given by the great chemist Joseph Black.

Living in an age of self-improvement, he was in business for himself by the time he was 20, taking out several patents in the use of dye materials, a new system for producing chloride of lime, used for bleaching, and even one new method for converting iron into steel.

In 1823, he was grubbing about looking at the waste products of gasworks, hoping to find some commercial use. He noticed that rubber dissolved on contact with coal-tar naphtha. Now, it's one thing to see something, it's another thing altogether to recognise that it's interesting and useful. He saw immediately that it should be possible to produce waterproof clothing using this discovery, and went into the clothing business.

Macintosh took two layers of woollen fibre, and sandwiched a layer of rubber in between, melting the rubber into the fibres. The early models had many problems, as in winter the rubber became as stiff as a board, while in summer it became somewhat sticky. Seams were leaky, as the needles left tiny holes in the layers. The rubber also disintegrated, or perished, quickly. But notwithstanding these minor technical problems, the coats sold and sold. Before his death, vulcanisation of rubber was invented, and the coats became much more user-friendly.