Hyatt, John Wesley

Hyatt, John Wesley
b. 28 November 1837 Starkey, New York, USA
d. 10 May 1920 Short Hills, New Jersey, USA
American inventor and the first successful manufacturer of celluloid.
Leaving school at the age of 16, Hyatt spent ten years in the printing trade, demonstrating meanwhile a talent for invention. The offer of a prize of $10,000 for finding a substitute for ivory billiard balls stimulated Hyatt to experiment with various materials. After many failures, he arrived at a composition of paper flock, shellac and collodion, which was widely adopted. Noting the "skin" left after evaporating collodion, he continued his experiments, using nitrocellulose as a base for plastic materials, yet he remained largely ignorant of both chemistry and the dangers of this explosive substance. Independently of Parkes in England, he found that a mixture of nitrocellulose, camphor and a little alcohol could, by heating, be made soft enough to mould but became hard at room temperature. Hyatt's first patent for the material, celluloid, was dated 12 July 1870 (US pat. 105338) and was followed by many others for making domestic and decorative articles of celluloid, replacing more expensive natural materials. Manufacture began at Albany in the winter of 1872–3. In 1881 Hyatt and his brother Isiah Smith floated the Hyatt Pure Water Company. By introducing purifying coagulants into flowing water, they avoided the expense and delay of allowing the water to settle in large tanks before filtration. Many towns and paper and woollen mills adopted the new process, and in 1891 it was introduced into Europe. During 1891–2, Hyatt devised a widely used type of roller bearing. Later inventions included a sugar-cane mill, a multistitch sewing machine and a mill for the cold rolling and straightening of steel shafts. It was characteristic of Hyatt's varied inventions that they achieved improved results at less expense.
Principal Honours and Distinctions
Society of Chemical Industry Perkin Medal 1914.
12 July 1870, US patent no. 105,338 (celluloid).
Further Reading
Obituary, 1920, Chem. Metal. Eng. (19 May).
J. Soc. Chem. Ind. for 16 March 1914 and J. Ind. Eng. Chem. for March 1914 carried accounts of Hyatt's achievements, on the occasion of his award of the Perkin Medal of the Society of Chemical Industry in that year.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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