Today: How Harry Coover invented Super Glue by accident.
Today, Super Glue is enormously popular, a staple in households and in heavy industry. And in medicine it seals arteries, veins, bleeding ulcers and organs, and is often used to seal skin instead of stitches. It is commonly used in dental surgery as well.
But its birth came by accident. Harry Coover had a doctorate in Chemistry and during World War ll was working for Eastman-Kodak in Rochester, NY with other scientists to create a clear plastic to be used in gun sights.
Harry developed numerous compounds but the project did not succeed and the scientists moved on with their work. But in 1951, six years after the war ended, Harry and his Eastman-Kodak team were exploring powerful sealants for jet aircraft canopies when he recalled the earlier project and all of its compounds.
He asked Fred Joyner, a member of his team to test those compounds for their sealant capability. At first, nothing out of the ordinary happened. But on the 910th compound; Fred hard as he tried, could not separate the lenses from his machine, which ruined a valuable piece of equipment.
Embarrassed, Fred apologized to Harry for what he had done. But instead of getting angry, Harry saw entire new possibilities for this stuff, with its incredible sticking power.
Harry took it to Eastman-Kodak management as a potential new product and continued to refine it until in 1958 what later became known as Super Glue came on the market as Eastman 910.
To tell the public about this extraordinary product, Harry was invited to be a guest on the popular television show, “I’ve Got a Secret,” starring Garry Moore as the host. In front of a studio audience and in front of a national television audience, Harry would demonstrate the product.
This was an exciting opportunity but if the product failed, Harry would look foolish in front of millions of people, including his bosses at Eastman-Kodak, who had invested considerable money in his product. He was understandably nervous.
To conduct the demonstration, a crossbar connected on each side to a metal cylinder sealed only with a single drop of Eastman 910 hung above the stage. Harry grabbed the crossbar and it was slowly lifted well above the stage as he hung in the air.
If the glue failed, he was going to land on that stage with a thud, as could potentially his career. But as the seconds ticked by, it didn’t fail and the audience cheered and clapped at this stunning demonstration, as Harry was lowered back down to the stage.
Just when Harry thought he could relax and bask in the moment, suddenly Garry Moore decided maybe it could hold two, and he called for the stage hands to hoist Harry and him up together as they clung to the bar.
Could it hold this much weight? Or would they both tumble down on the stage?
Once again the seconds passed while they dangled in the air. The glue held them up there. This memorable image made a strong impression on the studio audience and the national television audience and product sales skyrocketed.
Today, it has many names such as Krazy Glue, Glue Stitch and SurgeSeal but to most people it is Super Glue and Harry became known as “Mr. Super Glue,” which pleased him.
Harry worked for Eastman-Kodak until he “retired” in 1984 at the age of 67. But he never slowed down. He started his own consulting company. And for nine years, he was also a board member of a large chemical company.
By the time he actually did retire in 2004, 87 year old Harry had 460 patents and that year was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 2010, President Obama presented him the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
In his personal life, Harry married his love Muriel, his wife for over 60 years, until her passing in 2005. On March 24th, 2011, Harry passed away in his Tennessee home at the age of 94. He is survived by daughter Dr. Melinda Coover Paul and by two sons, Harry lll and Stephen and four grandchildren.
Super Glue gave Harry great pleasure especially when its medical uses were discovered during the Vietnam War, where it saved the lives or lessoned the severity of the injuries for thousands of soldiers. Medics carried it in bottles and sprayed it on injured soldiers to stop the bleeding.
Today, Super Glue, under its many names is found practically everywhere. But it is in the lives it has saved and in the lives it continues to save and in the pain it relieves that it is Harry’s greatest legacy.
Success Tip of the Week:
If you are a creative person, don’t be so quick to discard your ideas. As Harry showed us, what may seem to have no applicability now doesn’t mean it won’t prove highly useful sometime in the future.
In the next KazanToday:
How a man and his two partners built a giant global company on what was at first a shoestring budget.