Thomas Hancock: Inventor of Elastic

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Thomas Hancock was an English inventor who founded the British rubber industry. Most notably, Hancock invented the masticator, a machine that shredded rubber scraps and allows rubber to be recycled after being formed into blocks or rolled into sheets.

In 1820, Hancock patented elastic fastenings for gloves, suspenders, shoes and stockings. But in the process of creating the first elastic fabrics, Hancock found himself wasting considerable rubber. He invented the masticator as a way to help conserve rubber.

Interestingly, Hancock kept notes during the process of invention. In describing the masticator, he made the following comments: "Pieces with fresh cut edges would perfectly unite; but the outer surface, which had been exposed, would not unite... it occurred to me that if minced up very small the amount of fresh-cut surface would be greatly increased and by heat and pressure might possibly unite sufficiently for some purposes."

The eccentric Hancock initially did not choose to patent his machine. Instead, he gave it the deceptive name of "pickle" so that no one else would know what it was. The first masticator was a wooden machine that used a hollow cylinder studded with teeth and inside the cylinder was a studded core that was hand cranked. To masticate means to chew.

Macintosh Invents Waterproof Fabric

Around this time Scottish inventor Charles Macintosh was trying to find uses for the waste products of gasworks when he discovered that coal-tar naphtha dissolved India rubber. He took wool cloth and painted one side with the dissolved rubber preparation and placed another layer of wool cloth on top.

This created the first practical waterproof fabric, but the fabric was not perfect. It was easy to puncture when it was seamed and the natural oil in wool caused the rubber cement to deteriorate. In cold weather, the fabric became stiffer while the fabric became sticky when exposed to hot environments. When vulcanized rubber was invented in 1839, Macintosh's fabrics improved since the new rubber could withstand temperature changes.

Hancock's Invention Goes Industrial

In 1821, Hancock joined forces with Macintosh. Together they produced macintosh coats or mackintoshes. The wooden masticator turned into a steam-driven metal machine that was used to supply the Macintosh factory with masticated rubber.

In 1823, Macintosh patented his method for making waterproof garments by using rubber dissolved in coal-tar naphtha for cementing two pieces of cloth together. The now famous macintosh raincoat was named after Macintosh since they were first made using the methods developed by him.

In 1837, Hancock finally patented the masticator. He was perhaps motivated by Macintosh's legal problems with a patent for a method of making waterproof garments being challenged. In the pre-Goodyear and pre-vulcanization age of rubber age, the masticated rubber that Hancock invented was used for things like pneumatic cushions, mattresses, pillows/bellows, hose, tubing, solid tires, shoes, packing, and springs. It was used everywhere and Hancock eventually became the largest manufacturer of rubber goods in the world.

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Bellis, Mary. "Thomas Hancock: Inventor of Elastic." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 28). Thomas Hancock: Inventor of Elastic. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Thomas Hancock: Inventor of Elastic." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).