On this day in history : 17th June 1823 – Charles Macintosh patents the fabric used to make waterproof raincoats – which he created by experimenting with the by-products of Glasgow’s new gas industry….
Charles was born in Glasgow on the 29th of December 1766 to parents George Macintosh and Mary Moore…. His father owned a factory which made dye from lichen…. Charles was to study chemistry at Edinburgh University – however his first employment was that of a clerk…. But he still liked to experiment with science in his spare time, especially chemistry – and before reaching 20 he had given up his regular employment to concentrate on the manufacture of chemicals….
By the age of 23 Charles had established Scotland’s first alum works, using waste shale as a raw material, from the oil shale mines…. He also went into partnership with Charles Tennant and together they produced bleaching powder at a chemical works near to Glasgow….
Charles went on to develop many other processes using the by-products of Glasgow’s newly established gas industry…. One successful example being his use of ammonia to produce a wide range of coloured dyes…. But what we really remember him for is the ‘Mackintosh’ coat….
It was his experiments with naphtha, which is produced by distilling tar, that led to his invention of a waterproof fabric…. He discovered it is possible to dissolve India rubber in naphtha – and by cementing two pieces of cloth together with natural rubber a material was produced resistant to water but still flexible enough to be suitable for clothing…. With its ability to protect against wind and rain it was an ideal fabric with which to make coats….
Macintosh patented the process in 1823…. Early Mackintoshes had a tendency to melt in hot weather and were a tad on the smelly side – but over time the design improved…. At some point a ‘k’ was added to the name, giving us the ‘Mackintosh’ – which is frequently known as the ‘Mac’….
Bonded cotton is still used but is now produced in Japan – and is then shipped to the Mackintosh factory in Cumbernauld, Scotland…. Techniques used today are little changed since the Mac’s debut nearly 200 years ago…. Classic British style….