Clarissa & Charlie

In 1824, Clarissa married Charlie, the local boy, who was making it big in hardware.

Times were good. Charlie invented many useful tools. Credit was given liberally to customers.

Then some big customers couldn’t make their payments.

Charlie sold patents for his inventions to make ends meet. It wasn’t enough. The business was lost.

Charlie was sent to debtor’s prison. Clarissa visited him cheerfully and faithfully.

One day, after being released from debtor’s prison, Charlie saw a piece of India rubber.

Back then rubber had problems. In the summer it would go limp and stink like a skunk. In the winter it would crack and break like peanut brittle.

Charlie rolled it around in his hands and thought, “What if…?” He wanted to figure it out. He felt called to do so.

Scientists, chemists, inventors before him and around him could not do it, but HE would — with no education, no scientific background…and no money. Charlie was determined.

His obsession with rubber buried them in poverty. There were seven mouths to feed. He dug up turnips in abandoned fields. Their furniture was sold to pay debts or buy more rubber for testing.

Time and again he thought he found the answer. The family would make toys, globes, clothing and shoes…and then the seasons would prove its failure.

He lost it all or sold it all many times.

Through it all stood Clarissa by his side, cooking the scanty meals in the kitchen which doubled as his laboratory.Charles Goodyear in kitchen lab-cropped

Back to the drawing board. In and out of prison for debt. Family and friends abandoned them. Everyone urged him to stop.

Except Clarissa.

Years went by.

One night he accidentally dropped some rubber on the hot kitchen stove.  He noticed it charred like leather, rather than melting.  He was thrilled, but would it withstand the cold? 

He grabbed a hammer and nailed it to the house outside in the frigid January night.  The next morning he anxiously opened the front door.

It didn’t crack!

It was still flexible!

Louis Pasteur would say ten years later,

“Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen?  Chance favors only the prepared mind.”

Chance had finally favored Charlie.

It took four years of fine tuning and persuading skeptical investors, but the result was everything from slickers and boots to bottle nipples and life vests.

Things got a little better for the family.  Unfortunately, greedy men whisked most of the money away from the man who had given his life and the woman who had given her unwavering support to the discovery.

Before full financial security was realized, Clarissa died.

Daniel Webster (American Senator and Secretary of State under three Presidents) spoke of Clarissa’s support of Charlie:

“In all his distress, and in all his trials, she was willing to participate in his sufferings, and endure everything, and hope everything; she was willing to be poor; she was willing to go to prison or if necessary when he went to prison; she was willing to share with him everything, and that was his only solace.”

Seven years later Charlie died.  Before his death he said,

“Life should not be estimated exclusively by the standard of dollars and cents.  I am not disposed to complain that I have planted and others have gathered the fruits. 

A man has cause for regret only when he sows and no one reaps”.

Twenty more years would pass before a tire company would be named for Charles Goodyear.  Goodyear Tires–achievable because of the labor of an untiring man and an amazingly supportive woman.

What will you sow? Whose dream will you support?


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