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Home >> Historical Links >> Historical Info >> Naugatuck: Cradle of the Rubber Industry


by Martha Ann Simons
Past-President Naugatuck Historical Society

Did you know that Connecticut is the cradle of the rubber industry?
Charles Goodyear was born in New Haven in 1800, but he grew up in Naugatuck and married Clarissa Beecher, daughter of Daniel Beecher, a prominent Naugatuck man. The Goodyear home stood in the Union City section of Naugatuck for many years. In the summer of 1843, the first vulcanized rubber over-shoe was lasted in the office of Wm. DeForest & Co., a woolen mill, in Naugatuck. Ellen Goodyear, the seventeen year old daughter of Charles, demonstrated the process to Mr. DeForest, who was her uncle. Milo Lewis, Samuel J. Lewis, his brother, and William H. Elliott of New Haven, also witnessed the remarkable event.

The Samuel J. Lewis Co of Naugatuck (formerly a woolen-knitting mill) began the manufacture of vulcanized rubber overshoes in September of 1843, under the first license granted by Charles Goodyear. The United States Rubber Co. possessed "an unsigned, undated, handwritten copy of a partnership agreement between the four Lewis brothers, Milo, Thomas, Samuel J. and William B. of Naugatuck. This document has been described as the "oldest relic in existence having to do with beginnings of the rubber industry." (History of the U. S. Rubber Co. by Babcock, 1966). This company became the Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Co. and some of its buildings remained functional until the factories were demolished in 1985. By 1848, four additional firms were licensed to make rubber boots and shoes under the Goodyear patent, in Naugatuck. This marks the beginning of the worldwide rubber industry and the large factory complex which covered downtown Naugatuck for almost 150 years. Some 8000 people were employed at one time, in this, the main industry in Naugatuck.

One of the four original rubber companies in Naugatuck was Goodyear's India Rubber Glove Company, which began as the Litchfield Rubber Co. in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1844. Litchfield Rubber Co. moved to Naugatuck in 1847, and the name was changed to Goodyear's India Rubber Glove Mfg. Co., as it began to manufacture rubber gloves for telegraph linemen. It was the only company in which Charles Goodyear is known to have owned stock.

An interesting part of the company history is the following: "During the decade of the eighties, other changes marked a new awareness that the home of the rubber shoe and rubber glove and clothing industry of the United States could not indefinitely continue to make shift with country town services. Fire hazards, looked upon as unavoidable in mid-century, loomed larger and larger as investment in expensive mill buildings and machinery went on. A "bucket brigade," formed of men who, on the sound of the church or factory bell, hurried to the scene, was rarely able to save a building or salvage more than odds and ends of furnishings.

In 1883, the Goodyear's India Rubber Glove Manufacturing Company took matters into its own hands and purchased some fire fighting equipment, to the use of which individual subscribers were also entitled. The town dedicated $100 a year to this fund in order to have available that much protection to the new Town Hall and the center bridge." (From Green's History of Naugatuck, pg. 114)

An excerpt from a publication in the Uniroyal Chemical Co. Corporate Library, tells another interesting fact about Goodyear's India Rubber Glove Co. "In the early 1890's, the head surgeon at Johns Hopkins (Hospital) was the famous Dr. W. S. Halsted, and the head nurse in the operating rooms was Miss Caroline Hampton. Dr. Halsted, a bachelor, was in love with Miss Hampton. About this time Miss Hampton's hands, which had suffered greatly from immersion in the antiseptic fluids, carbolic acid, and bichloride of mercury, had reached the point where she could no longer carry on. Dr. Halsted's concern for Miss Hampton was two-fold, an interest in her personal well being, and in having her assistance in carrying out the operating room technique.

"After trying out various experiments to no avail, he finally hit upon the idea of having made for her thin rubber gloves, which would afford the desired protection to the skin of her hands. Dr. Halsted went to a manufacturer of rubber gloves, stated his problem, and asked to have a pair of thin rubber gloves with gauntlets made for Miss Hampton. This was done and soon Miss Hampton was wearing rubber gloves in the operating room. This experiment, however, demonstrated the practicability of the use of rubber gloves in a surgical operation. The doctor married the girl and the rubber manufacturer who perfected the gloves was our own Goodyear's India Rubber Glove Company."

By the 1892, there were many rubber manufacturing companies in Naugatuck, as well as elsewhere in Connecticut and in other areas. Nine companies consolidated their operations in Naugatuck, to become the United States Rubber Company. Due to an increase in the price of sulfuric acid, which was needed for the process then used for reclaiming old rubber, the United States Rubber Co. formed the Naugatuck Chemical Co. on June 1, 1904. Soon the new company was manufacturing many different acids and the company that would be in the forefront of the chemical industry in the United States was born to it's parent, the rubber industry. Naugatuck Chemical remained a subsidiary to U.S. Rubber Co. until under Uniroyal, it gained independence as Uniroyal Chemical Co.

The one remaining building ("Building 25") was built in 1895, as the Central Office for Goodyear's India Rubber Glove Manufacturing Co., which began in Naugatuck in 1847. After the United States Rubber Co. was founded, the building served as the Central Office for the entire facility in Naugatuck, and subsequently, Uniroyal, until that company closed in 1979.

More information on this and other Naugatuck history topics can be found in the research area of our Museum. Please consider becoming a member of the Society and supporting this research or making a tax-deductible donation to the Society!

Thanks to our Corporate Members

* Connecticut Center for Restorative Dentistry

* Fitzpatrick, Mariano & Santos, P.C.  

* Horgan Academy of Irish Dance

LPL Financial - David C Mulhall, CPA

* Prior Consulting - Lisa Prior

* Purcaro Video Productions

* The Hills Restaurant

* Witkoski Associates

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