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Goodyear Rubber Head Dolls

by Letha Berry (10/12/08).

American Charles Goodyear was born in 1800 and died in 1860. His father Amasa Goodyear was a pioneer in the manufacture of American hardware and was the inventor of a steel hayfork which replaced the heavy iron fork. The invention of the steel hay fork expedited and thus lightened the labor of field work. His father also manufactured the first pearl buttons made in America.


During the 1840′s and 1850′s the majority of manufactured dolls were produced in either Germany or France and exported to America. These dolls heads were placed on stuffed cloth body. Many of the bodies were stuffed with either sawdust or horse hair. The shoulder plate heads were attached either using glue or attached to the body using fabric placed through the sew holes and sown on the body. Since these beautiful dolls were made of China they were therefore easily broken. Manufacturers of dolls had long searched for a method to produced an unbreakable doll. The photo at the right is a Circa 1850 Kestner Covered Wagon China Head from my collection. She is a large example of a China Head as she is 30 inches tall and is on her original cloth body.

Although India rubber had been used for sometime it was brittle and would crack in the cold or melt in the heat. In the 1830′s Charles Goodyear had a factory located in the Staten Island area of New York that produced rubber maps, surgical bandages and toys. He would make a accidental discovery in 1839 that would revolutionized the rubber industry. Known as vulcanization this process made rubber more elastic thus better suited for industrial use. Charles Goodyear applied for a vulcanized rubber patent in 1843 and was granted patent #3,633 in 1844 for vulcanized rubber. The discovery occurred as Charles was attempting to improve rubber by boiling it with sulfur and accidentally dropped some of this mixture on to the red hot iron top of his wife’s cook stove and it vulcanized instantly. This accident lead to the discovery of a very tough substance which could withstand cracking or melting due to changes in temperatures.

Charles Goodyear’s brother Nelson in the hopes of producing an “unbreakable” doll applied it to toy making. Charles Goodyear applied for a patent to produce “A rubber doll’s head” and received this patent in 1851. The early Goodyear Rubber Head dolls were placed on a stuffed cloth body and had a leather crown which allowed for the attachment of a wig. All Goodyear Rubber head dolls carry markings of “Goodyear Patent May 6th 1851 extended to 1865″. In 1881 The Goodyear Rubber Company listed 3 pages of hard rubber head dolls in its trade journal. It is interesting that the use of hard rubber continued to be used in the doll industry a hundred years later. The doll at the right is from my personal collection and is a Goodyear Rubber Head doll and carries the Goodyear Patent marking. She is a large example of this type of doll at 27 inches tall. She is in excellent condition with no restoration. She does have very minor wear to her hair. It is possible to see dolls using molds with very similar faces but done in different materials. As an example I have seen this doll made as a China Head, Parian (unglazed bisque), as well as Papier Mache.

The 1851 Great Exhibition, also known as the Crystal Palace, was held in London, from May 1st to October 15. Charles Goodyear received the Great Council medal at the London Exhibition for his rubber products.

The Illustrated London News 1851 describes a display of Goodyear rubber head dolls:
These dolls were described as First-rate toys made of Indian-rubber under the Goodyear patent. It states that the heads of the dolls will bear any treatment. You may knock them about in any way and while they will assume all sorts of odd appearances, they will return with the greatest complacency to their former shape.


Time has not been kind to these dolls. Goodyear dolls are rare and when found are generally in poor condition due to their tendency to harden, crack and the applied paint chips causing it to lift away. The doll at the right shows a good representation of the type of deterioration that is common among Rubber Head dolls. It is very rare to find one an example of these dolls that is in excellent condition.

It should also be noted that Charles Goodyear received little profit from his work and lived most of his life in poverty and debt even though his discovery made rubber a practical product with thousands of uses. Charles Goodyear died in 1860 penniless and at that time he had taken out sixty patents on rubber manufactures. His original patent for vulcanized rubber has changed very little from 1844.

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