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Charles Macintosh’s Rubber Raincoat

Now that the clocks have gone back and winter is upon us, following a long, particularly hot summer, the raincoat suddenly seems topical again. This year marked the 175th anniversary of the death of the man who invented the famous rubber raincoat, Charles Macintosh.

The Scottish inventor and chemist, who was born in Glasgow in 1766, was employed as a clerk, but science was his passion (particularly chemistry) and he devoted his spare time to experimenting with chemicals.

He enjoyed chemistry so much that he had resigned from his job by the time he was 20 years old to concentrate full-time on his inventions. Luckily, he was extremely successful, with one of his most famous inventions being the raincoat known as the Mackintosh - abbreviated to "mac" in modern times.

 

Waterproof coat

MackintoshMacintosh successfully invented his waterproof fabric by experimenting with naphtha - a by-product of tar. He created the cloth by cementing two pieces of material together using natural rubber, which was made soluble as a result of the action of the naphtha.

He used the material to make a waterproof coat, patenting his invention (also known as a Mackintosh cloak) in 1823. Although his surname was spelt Macintosh, his invention became universally known as a Mackintosh. Nobody knows why a "K" was added to the spelling!

The earliest known reference to a “Mackintosh cloak” in literature was in 1835, but the name wasn't shortened to "mac" until 1901.

 

Popularity

The popularity of the rubber coat spread rapidly and Macintosh's company merged with Thomas Hancock's clothing company of Manchester in 1830 to produce more of the cloaks. Hancock was also interested in waterproof garments and had been experimenting with rubber-coated fabric since 1819, so it was an ideal merger.

Macintosh died in 1843, but his legacy lived on in the shape of the hugely popular raincoat. Soon, factories that produced rubberised coats were springing up all over the UK.

Different Mackintosh designs were produced, so that every type of coat could be made with the rubberised material, including riding coats, and overcoats for the police force, the British Army and railway workers.

The waterproof coat helped the police to operate more effectively, as they pounded the beat on the cold, damp streets in the 19th century. The fabric also became popular among British explorers who were sailing to foreign lands. It was ideal outerwear for onboard the ship and also for travelling around in colder climates.

 

Teething problems

Unfortunately, the early coats had a few teething problems, including an odd smell, a certain amount of stiffness and often a tendency to melt if the weather grew too hot. This didn't seem to affect their popularity, but Hancock further improved the waterproof fabric and patented a method for vulcanising rubber in 1843.

This solved most of the problems and during the 19th and 20th centuries, the company continued to manufacture waterproof clothing.

In 1925, Dunlop Rubber took over the company and production continued for more than 60 years, but in the mid-1990s, Traditional Weatherwear, the Mackintosh brand owner, announced it was planning to close its factory in Blairlinn, Cumbernauld.

 

21st century

At the turn of the 21st century, the closure was staved off when senior staff members acquired the company and marketed the traditional rubber Mackintosh coat as an upmarket brand. It collaborated with fashion designers, including Hermès, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Liberty, to turn the Mackintosh into a sought-after fashion item.

The coats became particularly popular on the Japanese market and the manufacturer won a Queen's Award for Enterprise in recognition of its success on the international market. The company's name was formally changed to Mackintosh in 2003.

Mackintosh was bought by Tokyo company Yagi Tsusho in 2007 and has continued to expand, opening its first high fashion store in London in 2011. A further expansion took place in 2017, when the Bulgarian designer Kiko Kostadinov produced a premium fashion line for the brand, called Mackintosh 0001.

Here at Coruba, we don't sell rubber coats, but we do supply a high-quality range of rubber products, including rubber matting, for various industries and applications. We are also fully supportive of rubber recycling initiatives to preserve the environment.

Please contact us on 01702 560194 or email info@coruba.co.uk for further information.



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