Mackintosh. Waterproof since 1823.
Charles Macintosh was a chemist born in Glasgow in 1766.
He began experiments to find a use for the waste products of Glasgow’s new gas works in 1818 and found that coal-tar Naptha could dissolve india rubber. He used this to form thin sheets of rubber which, when laminated on to textile, created the worlds first waterproof fabric, which he patented in 1823.
Early trials used wool cloth but the garments were heavy and uncomfortable to wear. The oils of the wool caused the rubber cement to deteriorate so in cold weather the fabric became stiffer and in hot weather it melted. The process was improved and the rubber solution was manufactured in Glasgow and shipped to Manchester where H. H. Birley built a factory in 1825 to produce Macintosh’s patented fabric.
In 1830 Charles merged his company with that of Thomas Hancock and the two began to collaborate. Hancock himself had been experimenting with rubber since 1819 and had invented elastic fabrics and patented fastenings for gloves, suspenders and stockings in 1820. Hancock invented the “masticator” machine to help shred and recycle the large amounts of waste material into rubber solutions and patented an spreading machine which automated the hand brushed application. Hancock further improved the waterproofing by patenting a method for vulcanising rubber using sulphur in 1843, 8 weeks before Charles Goodyear did the same in the US. The company became official supplier to the British Army, Railways and Police forces.
By 20th century the original patents had expired and nearly every manufacturer on the planet had their version of the “Mac”. In 1925 Dunlop took over the manchester factory, but production waned over several decades, Macintosh & Co were bought and sold, and by the 1990′s was on the brink of bankruptcy until they rebranded themselves as high-end heritage label.
Mackintosh may have become a generic term for a raincoat, but the genuine article is still constructed by the company -using the same techniques and procedures pioneered by Macintosh and Hancock - from rubberised laminated fabric, assembled with glued and taped seams, to provide protection from the worst that the weather can inflict.