Rampant Scotland Directory

Scottish Inventions and Discoveries
- Waterproof Clothing - Charles Macintosh (1766-1843)

Born on 29 December 1766 in Glasgow, the son of a well-known dyer, Macintosh took an early interest in science. In 1786 he started work in a chemical factory and in 1797 he opened the first alum works in Scotland. Together with Charles Tennant, he invented an easily carried bleaching powder which made a considerable fortune for the two men. He also invented a conversion process which used carbon gases to convert iron to steel which was much faster than the method used up until that time. Another invention was a hot blast process.

But it was his researches in chemistry and as the inventor of waterproof clothing which added his name to the English dictionary. While trying to find uses for waste products generated by gasworks, he used naptha, a by-product of the distillation of coal-tar, as a solvent for rubber. This was applied to two pieces of cloth which were then pressed together. Despite early problems with the strong smell of rubber, the patent he took out on the process in 1823 meant that by 1836 "Macintoshes" were much in demand. Although other forms of waterproof clothing have been developed since, his name is often used to describe them - including the "plastic mac".

Macintosh was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1823 and he died on 25 July, 1843.

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