The Story of Inventing Super Glue

The Story of Inventing Super Glue

The super glue can strike almost anything. Modelers use it to mount their miniatures, and DIY enthusiasts rely on it to quickly solve many problems. But cyanoacrylate, which is what is called the chemical family of this glue, was a breakthrough in the industrial adhesives and its discovery is due in large part to military research.

The needs of a government and its military impelled an unexpected innovation, as true as that is why cyanoacrylate exists. This chemical passed from experimental plastic to industrial adhesive and became the first aid product to treat the wounded soldiers. And its history begins just before the World War II.

Super glue’s father, Harry Wesley Coover, worked for the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York (USA). The famous photographic film company had a long history in military research.

After the United States entered World War I, Kodak provided cameras and training for use by members of the US Army’s Signal Corps. The company supplied the US Navy with the cellulose acetate it needed for the coating of its aircraft called aircraft dope, a lacquer to harden and waterproof the surface of the aircraft. The celluloid manufacturer also made its way into the gas mask industry by providing it with unbreakable eyepieces.

When the United States went back to war in 1941, Kodak participated with their efforts. The company put its optical engineers to work on the research and development of night vision devices and precision aiming devices for bombs. At the same time, Kodak’s scientists developed new plastics and chemicals for military use. Among them was Coover, who worked at Kodak while studying to earn his bachelor’s degree at Cornell University.

In 1942, Coover’s team was looking for the perfect transparent plastic for firearm displays. Scientists tested several different compounds in their search for a polymer with optical clarity.

By condensing formaldehyde and cyanoacetate, Coover created cyanoacrylate monomers. In the presence of moisture, these monomers quickly adhered to each other and formed long chains of polymer that hardened and gave rise to a transparent plastic.

‘It worked, but we found all sorts of problems.’ Said Coover. ‘Everything that touched these monomers stuck.

The guns were a complete disaster, too sticky to be useful, so Coover pointed it all out and filed the papers on what would later become super glue. Coover had no idea at the time that he was sitting on top of a goldmine and it took nine years before he knew it. Today, super glue is a flourishing industry and you can see the best super glue brands at ReviewGurus.

In 1942, at the height of World War II, Kodak Laboratories sought to create some transparent material that was suitable for making plastic sights for rifles. This created the methyl cyanoacrylate, but it was almost impossible to use it to do anything, simply because it clung whatever it touched, a phenomenon that occurred almost at any time.

Nine years later, it was noted that this characteristic was of particular utility and this material had unique properties in the sense that it did not need heat or pressure to form an adhesive joint, and it was felt that the bond was immediate and extremely strong. Laboratory tests were done with different objects and they were permanently attached.

The product was patented under the technical designation Alcohol-Catalyzed Cyanoacrylate Adhesive Compositions. Kodak began producing it under the name Eastman 910 and released it in 1958, sixteen years after its initial discovery. It quickly became popular and began to be known as super glue in the USA.

Later, during the Vietnam War, super glue was utilized for the treatment of wounds. The combat surgeons found the adhesive between the supplies and tools that the armed forces sent to their mechanics on the battlefield, and began to use this substance by spraying it directly on the open wounds, being able to immediately stop the bleeding and facilitating the transfer of the patients safely. Government approval was subsequently obtained to provide extensive medical uses in times of peace and civilian life such as joining veins and arteries in the operations, sealing bleeding ulcers, stopping uncontrollable bleeding of some soft organs or for use in dental surgery.

The correct chemical designation of the cyanoacrylate is ethyl 2-cyanoacrylate and there are numerous commercial names for this adhesive. The actual composition of most commercial adhesives is not 100% pure, but it is typically 91% ethyl 2-cyanoacrylate, 9% polymethyl methacrylate, somewhat less than 0.5% pure hydroquinone and some other trace of certain organic acids that completes the 100% mark. This composition is a little more expensive than if it were 100% AC, but it is denser, hardens a little more slowly and with greater rigidity. The most common low density adhesives are almost 100% pure ECA without any additives. Today, the super glue is one of those evolutionary marvels in adhesive technology. It produced a small technological revolution in the workshops of making models whether professional or amateur, in household use and in the medical sector as well. The super glue does not only allow to bind very different materials, but it also paves the way for new modeling materials. When it is used on plastics, it provides non-shrinkable joints with seams or non-destructive joints which are simply great for sanding and high-quality finishing.

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