Williams and Bouchardat made some interesting discoveries about isoprene and rubber, but regardless of how great these results were, what these chemists had made was not truly synthetic rubber. The one thing that separated these artificial rubbers from a commercially practical synthetic rubber was the preparation of the monomer, isoprene, from cheap materials. Before 1880, the only way to make isoprene was from crude rubber. That was all about to change.
It's 1882, and in his lab, Sir William Augustus Tilden, a British chemist, heats turpentine for a while, and after he purifies the product, finds he has made isoprene. Tilden works on this synthesis for a while, and by 1884, he has perfected the process.
Through all of the reactions he performed trying to perfect the process, he amassed quite a lot of isoprene. He polymerizes some of that isoprene with concentrated hydrochloric acid, and confirms Bouchardat's findings. He also discovers that more of the isoprene is converted into rubber if nitrosyl chloride is used as a catalyst in the reaction. He also shows that this rubber he has made can be vulcanized in the same way as natural rubber, with the final products having similar properties . Tilden is making progress towards a commercially viable synthetic rubber, but after he performs these experiments, he still has a lot of isoprene left over, and nothing to do with it. So he does what any lab chemist would do; he puts it on a shelf and forgets about it for a few years.
1892. Tilden is walking around his lab and comes upon the old bottles of isoprene, only the contents are not as he remembers. Where he had left bottles full of a thin, colorless liquid, are now bottles of a viscous yellow syrup in which are floating large, solid, yellow blobs. No, some mischievous grad student did not switch the bottles on him, some chemical reaction has occurred.
"India rubber!" Tilden exclaimed, and in a fit of excitement begins testing the material and trying to speed up the process. He finds that this rubber has similar properties to natural rubber, and can be vulcanized, but after years of trying to accelerate the reaction in vain, Tilden becomes pessimistic. By 1907, he begin telling people that it is impossible to make synthetic rubber commercially, and advises people to put their money into plantations.
This decree did not, however, prevent anyone from continuing making isoprene from turpentine. Even before Tilden's condemnation of synthetic rubber, the turpentine synthesis had fallen by the wayside. Turpentine is expensive, scarce, and subject to the same kind of price fluctuations as natural rubber. Besides, if you are going to get rubber from a tree, it might as well come out of the rubber tree, ready-made, instead of out of a pine tree by way of a test-tube.
Despite Tilden's pessimism, synthetic rubber research did not end.
While Tilden is forgetting about all the isoprene he made, the world is changing in other ways.
Our understanding of how our body's blood works is expanded when Russian biologist, Elie Metchnikoff discovers phagocytosis, the process in which white blood cells kill germs. Italian biologist, Giulio Bizzozero also expands this knowledge by describing the function of platelets in blood clotting.
The infamous outlaw, Jesse James, is killed by one of his gang members, Robert Ford, in an attempt to collect a $5,000 reward for the death of his leader.
Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky composes the famous 1812 Overture.
1. Herbert, Vernon and Attilio Bisio. Synthetic Rubber: A Project That Had to Succeed. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1985.
2. Howard, Frank A. Buna Rubber: The Birth of an Industry, D. van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1947.
3. Tilden, William A. "On the Decomposition of Terpenes by Heat." Journal of the Chemical Society. Vol. 45, pp 410 - 420 (1884)
4. ------. "Spontaneous Conversion of Isoprene Into Caoutchouc." The Chemical News. Vol. 65, No. 1697, pp 265 (June 3, 1892)
5. Wolf, Howard and Ralph. Rubber: A Story of Glory and Greed. New York: Covici, Friede, 1936.