Vulcanised rubber has quite the backstory and in fact would possibly not have made it into existence were it not for a tenacious Charles Goodyear.
Goodyear was a self-taught chemist who never really received any acclaim during his lifetime and ended up passing away with a lot of debt before seeing his legacy come to fruition. He would actually spend a lot of time working on his experiments in a prison cell after being imprisoned by a creditor. His experiments severely harmed his health which contributed to his death. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company was named in his honour years later and his family would eventually benefit from his discovery.
Rubber is made from a gum elastic that was found in rubber trees. It was unfortunately too brittle in the cold and would melt in the heat which led to the collapse of the rubber industry. Everybody was ready to do away with it but Charles Goodyear believed it still had great potential. People close to him tried to discourage his experiments and investment into rubber but he never wavered. Vulcanised rubber would eventually be patented in 1844 but would only truly take off at the end of the 19th century and you probably now have rubber in arms reach wherever you go.
Rubber was vulcanised by mixing the compound with quicklime and then boiling it. This seemed to work at first but was neutralised too easily. The most basic successful method was to treat the rubber with sulphur and heat. Sulphur combined instead of dissolving into the rubber which gave the rubber tensile characteristics and made it resistant to rough conditions.
The term ‘vulcanise’ was actually coined by Thomas Hancock’s associate, the person who effectively stole Goodyear’s invention, Vulcan is the Roman god of fire.