On this day: Charles Macintosh, inventor of waterproofs, born

Models show off new designs of the famous Mackintosh rain coat, the clothing brand which takes its name from waterproofing inventor Charles Macintosh. Picture: Greg Macvean/TSPL

Models show off new designs of the famous Mackintosh rain coat, the clothing brand which takes its name from waterproofing inventor Charles Macintosh. Picture: Greg Macvean/TSPL

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Charles Macintosh, one of the great Scottish inventors, was born into a family of prosperous Glasgow merchants on December 29, 1766.

He was expected to follow the family trade but displayed a keen interest in science and chemistry from a young age.

Macintosh did eventually become a clerk in his teenage years, but he continued his experiments in his spare time.

By the time he was 20, he had turned to chemical manufacturing full time. He was so successful that in 1797 he opened the first alum works in Scotland, producing ammonium chloride and Prussian blue dye.

Macintosh also introduced the manufacture of lead and aluminium acetates to Britain, and developed new processes to dye cloth with David Dale, a Scottish merchant and businessman.

It was in 1818, while trying to find a use for waste products generated by gasworks, that Macintosh experimented with a volatile liquid hydrocarbon mixture called naphtha.

He discovered it dissolved rubber - but when joined to sheets of fabric, it dried.

Remarkably, the resulting new material could not be penetrated by water.

Macintosh patented his invention in 1823. The material was first sold the following year as ‘Mackintosh’ (with an additional K).

The inventor went on to found his own waterproofing company in Glasgow in 1834, primarily because of the opposition he faced from tailors, who wanted little to do with the material.

He moved to Manchester in 1840 to exploit the material further and within a year had a flourishing factory which produced rainproofs for the British military and general public.

The factory is now owned by the Dunlop Rubber Company.

Other achievements included inventing a revolutionary bleaching power alongside Charles Tennant, a fellow Scottish chemist and industrialist, discovering a faster method of using carbon gases to convert iron to steel and devising a hot­blast process which produced high quality cast iron with Scottish inventor, James Neilson.

Macintosh was honoured for his contributions to chemistry by his election in 1823 as a fellow of the Royal Society.

He remains known for his invention of waterproof clothing, in particular the garment that still bears his name to this day

By 1836 the eponymously titled raincoats, ‘Mackintoshes’ were hugely popular and the term ‘plastic mac’ is still in common usage.

Macintosh died in 1843 in Dunchattan, neraby to his native hometown in Glasgow.

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