Vulcanized Rubber Due to Serendipitous Entrepreneurial Alertness

(p. 46) The problem with rubber was that it wasn’t a very versatile material. Macintosh found, for example, that in very hot weather his raincoats would “sweat,” and in freezing conditions they would crack. The solution to this particular problem came, as ever with innovation, by accident. In 1839 a young American working in the Roxbury India Rubber Company in Roxbury, Massachusetts, was experimenting with his raw materials one day when he accidentally let a mixture of rubber and sulfur drop onto a hot stove. The next morning he saw that the rubber had charred, like leather, instead of melting. He correctly inferred that if he could stop the charring at the right point, he’d have rubber that might behave like waterproof leather. The sulfur had vulcanized (he coined the word) the rubber in such a way that it would retain its shape and elasticity over a wide range of temperatures. So now rubber could be hard or elastic, as required.

Source:
Burke, James. The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburetor Possible – and Other Journeys. Boston: Back Bay Books, 1997.
(Note: italics in original.)

Economist Arrested for Speaking the Truth

SmirnovDmitrjisLatvianEconomist.gif

Detained Latvian economist Dmitrijs Smirnovs. Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) RIGA, Latvia — Hammered by economic woe, this former Soviet republic recently took a novel step to contain the crisis. Its counterespionage agency busted an economist for being too downbeat.

“All I did was say what everyone knows,” says Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a 32-year-old university lecturer detained by Latvia’s Security Police. The force is responsible for hunting down spies, terrorists and other threats to this Baltic nation of 2.3 million people and 26 banks.
Now free after two days of questioning, Mr. Smirnovs hasn’t been charged. But he is still under investigation for bad-mouthing the stability of Latvia’s banks and the national currency, the lat. Investigators suspect him of spreading “untruthful information.” They’ve ordered him not to leave the country and seized his computer.
Finance is a highly touchy subject in Latvia, one that the state tries, with unusual zeal, to shield from loose tongues. It is a criminal offense here to spread “untrue data or information” about the country’s financial system. Undermining it is outlawed as subversion.
So, when the global financial system began to buckle this autumn, Latvia’s Security Police mobilized to combat destabilizing chatter about banks and exchange rates. Agents directed their attention to Inter-(p. A19)net chat rooms, newspaper articles, cellphone text messages and even rock concerts. A popular musician was taken in for questioning after he cracked a joke about unstable Latvian banks at a performance.
Just one problem: Much of the speculative buzz now turns out to ring true.
. . .
In Latvia’s Soviet past, officials routinely blamed their problems on saboteurs or other scapegoats. “This is part of our political culture,” says Sergei Kruks, a media-studies lecturer. “If the state doesn’t have a solution, it has to find someone to blame.”

For the full story, see:
ANDREW HIGGINS. “How to Combat a Banking Crisis: First, Round Up the Pessimists; Latvian Agents Detain a Gloomy Economist; ‘It Is a Form of Deterrence’.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 1, 2008): A1 & A19.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Industrialist Duisberg Made Domagk’s Sulfa Discovery Possible

(p. 65) . . . Domagk’s future would be determined not only by his desire to stop disease but also by his own ambition, his family needs, and the plans of a small group of businessmen he had never met. He probably had heard of their leader, however, one of the preeminent figures in German business, a man the London Times would later eulogize as “the greatest industrialist the world has yet had.” His name was Carl Duisberg.

Duisberg was a German version of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller rolled into one. He had built an empire of science in Germany, leveraging the discoveries of dozens of chemists he employed into one of the most profitable businesses on earth. He knew how industrial science worked: He was himself a chemist. At least he had been long ago. Now, in the mid-1920s, in the twilight of his years, his fortunes made, his reputation assured, he often walked in his private park alone—still solidly built, with his shaved head and a bristling white mustache, still a commanding presence in his top hat and black overcoat—through acres of forest, fountains, classical statuary, around the pond in his full-scale Japanese garden by the lacquered teahouse, over his steams, and across his lawns.

Source:
Hager, Thomas. The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle Drug. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.
(Note: ellipsis added.)