Charles Macintosh

Portrait of Charles Macintosh

Charles Macintosh was the chemist who invented waterproof clothing. He was born in Glasgow in 1766 and first found work as a clerk while studying chemistry in his spare time. When he was 20 he turned to chemical manufacturing full time and in 1797 he opened the first alum works in Scotland. He invented a bleaching powder with Charles Tennant which made both men rich and he developed a conversion process using carbon gases to convert iron to steel.

It was while trying to find a use for the waste products generated by the gasworks that Macintosh used naptha as a solvent for rubber and applied it to pieces of cloth which were pressed together. He took out a patent in 1823 and for this and his other work he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in the same year.

By 1836 raincoats which bore his name "Macintoshes" were hugely popular and to this day the term "plastic mac" is still used for a waterproof coat. Macintosh died in 1843.