The Uses and Abuses of Superglue

Superglue urban legends have staying power!

Superglue Pranks
Henrik Sorensen/Stone/Getty Images

I found this posted online, original source unknown:

DUBIOUS ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS, BRITISH DIVISION...
Rubber Cushion: To John Bloor, who mistook a tube of superglue for his hemorrhoid cream and glued his buttocks together.

Fact or fiction?  It's hard to say for sure, but the fact that the selfsame item has been posted and reposted on the Internet as "fresh news" for 15 years running casts a smidgen of doubt on its authenticity.

Befitting its status as a modern miracle invention, superglue looms large in urban legendry. In its purest form the stuff can withstand a ton of pressure on a one-square-inch bond. It sets in seconds and can be used to stick anything to just about anything else, permanently. Since its discovery 60-odd years ago, the ultra-sticky substance known to consumers as Super Glue, Krazy Glue, Permabond and Kola Loka has inspired a plethora of folktales which generally fall into one of three categories: Origins, Mishaps and Pranks.

Superglue origins

The following was culled from a message board posting:

What is now marketed as Super Glue (TM, patent pending, whatever) was invented in the UK as a replacement for sutures. That is what it was designed for originally, not a household adhesive.

Not quite. Although superglue has been used with great success in place of sutures for certain medical procedures, the oft-made claim that it was originally invented for this purpose is false.

In fact, superglue (known to chemists as cyanoacrylate) was invented quite by accident. Twice. In both cases, scientists were hoping to come up with new plastic compounds for use in applications such as gun sights and jet canopies but happened unexpectedly upon a formulation that stuck to basically everything it touched.

The first time it happened, during World War II, researchers found it a nuisance. The second time, during the 1950s, a light bulb went on in somebody's head. The product was first sold commercially in 1958.

Superglue mishaps

Found on the web, attributed to the Indianapolis Star, February 7, 1994:

Further evidence for the survival of the unfittest is what doctors call the "right-place, wrong-thing" syndrome. One patient Super-Glued lips (right place) together, thinking it was lip balm (wrong thing). Another used the miracle stickum to apply false eyelashes...

True! A survey of the medical literature on superglue indicates this kind of mishap is far more common than one might assume. Apparently, people mistake the stuff for other, similarly-packaged products such as eye or ear drops all the time, and end up in the emergency room. In one study, researchers compiled a list of 14 different cases all of which occurred in a single year. This type of mishap, dubbed "inadvertent self-administration of superglue" by physicians, has inspired consumer groups to call for repackaging of the adhesive.

Hobbyists and home repair enthusiasts have been known to share tales of accidental adhesions, the consequences of which are usually benign and easily remedied. "Have you had a little superglue mishap? Get your fingers stuck together?" asks one practical advice columnist. "Use an old wash cloth and nail polish remover to clean that melted mess in no time!"  For what it's worth, I'm told that only nail polish removers containing acetone will work, but this is still handy advice in sticky situations.

Superglue pranks

From The Sun, a London tabloid, in 1996:

It took six firefighters, two doctors and two police officers five hours to get Gary Foxley free from the toilet ring at McDonald's, where someone had poured superglue all over it.
  Rescuers had no choice, the report continues, but to disconnect the toilet and carry it out of the restaurant with Foxley in situ to a waiting ambulance. I'll admit to being skeptical of this story, mainly because the reporter goes on to claim that the restaurant's staff didn't become aware of the emergency until Foxley "pushed the alarm button."  Are those common in public restrooms in Great Britain?

Disbelieve if you will, but according to the BBC a strangely similar incident happened more recently in the United States, where, the story goes, "a gambler sued a casino for 30,500 pounds after claiming he got stuck to a glue-smeared toilet seat and had to waddle through the casino for help." (Drat those American toilets — no panic button!)

'Superglue Revenge'

And then there are the stories of, um, interpersonal bonding — the suspected criminal who superglued himself to his girlfriend to prevent police from arresting him; the woman who affixed herself to her foreign-born husband to stop authorities from deporting him; and the red-faced woman who showed up in the emergency room with both hands stuck to her boyfriend's private parts.

Add a motive like revenge to such scenarios and you are smack in the middle of urban legends territory (in case you had any doubt up to this point).

The best known of all cyanoacrylatic abuse tales is "Superglue Revenge," in which an angry wife/girlfriend allegedly waits until her philandering or abusive husband/boyfriend falls asleep then glues his penis to another body part (most often his thigh) — a cautionary tale to be heeded if there ever was one. Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand reported several "Superglue Revenge" variants in his 1984 collection of urban legends, The Choking Doberman. A Hollywood version popular in the early 1990s claimed that actress Sean Young did it to then-boyfriend James Woods during an exceptionally tempestuous break-up. Ms. Young, who believes the story was maliciously promulgated by Woods himself, dismissed it as a lie in a 1993 Playboy interview.

In one of those disconcerting examples of life imitating legend, a 16-year-old girl in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was charged with assault in July 2000 for gluing her cheating boyfriend's penis to his abdomen. The girl claimed she meant it as a joke, but the boyfriend wound up in the hospital and juvenile authorities were not amused.

Do not try this at home!

Updates:

Real-Life Superglue Antics Trump Urban Legends - Nov. 2005: Pittsburgh man sues former lover for "battery, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress" resulting from his buttocks being fused together and his private parts affixed to his abdomen with superglue — all because he broke up with the woman after 10 months of dating. Also: a very sticky toilet seat.

Superglue Revenge 2009 - Aug. 2009: News on a sticky situation in Wisconsin involving an unfaithful husband, his jilted wife, three women he cheated with, and a tube of Krazy Glue. Predictably, it didn't end well for the lothario.