John Bicknell

Black Dan, the Rubber Man


Daniel Webster is best remembered as one of the great political orators of the 19th century. His Senate debate with South Carolina’s Roberty Y. Hayne is still studied today. He served as secretary of State and negotiated the Webster-Ashburton Treaty that secured the U.S.-Canada border, at least in the eastern half of the continent (it would be left to James K. Polk to settle Oregon).

Webster, who died on Oct. 24, 1852, was also one of the greatest lawyers of his era. He argued many cases before the Supreme Court. But one of his last major cases was a simple patent dispute in which he represented Charles Goodyear, who was defending his patent for the vulcanization of rubber, which he was awarded on June 15, 1844.

Webster at first was not interested in taking the case. He was not feeling well, he’d have to travel, and he didn’t think it was all that important. Then Goodyear offered him $15,000 and Black Dan changed his mind. The sum, he said, would almost serve to pay off all his debts. So he took Goodyear’s case, and won it.