Last year Harry Coover received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Barack Obama, 52 years after “superglue” was introduced.
Harry Coover might not be a name known to every aeromodeller, but his invention of cyanoacrylates resulted in an adhesive which is used by all of them worldwide. If you had to name a substance vitally important to modellers today, no longer would it be balsa wood, but “Zap”, “Loctite”, “Super Glue” and many hundreds of other brand names which spell instant adhesion.
Harry Coover died on 26 March 2011 aged 94, and his obituary dispelled one of the myths which I always held firm: cyanoacrylates were invented during the Vietnam war, and sprayed on to seal open wounds until soldiers could be flown to operating theatres. That application is true and it’s the one of which Coover was most proud.
But the reality is that zap was discovered by accident during the second world war when chemist Coover was experimenting for Eastman Kodak with clear plastics which could be used to make unbreakable gun sights; that got nowhere. In 1951 he came back to cyanoacrylates for jet cockpit canopies. Testing for resistance to heat, his co-worker Fred Joyner – appropriately named – found that refractometer lenses were bonded together. They recognised that this stuff could bond almost anything under most conditions.
Superglue appeared on the market in 1958 and was called Eastman 910, and in 1963 Eastman Kodak sold the formula to American Sealants who then produced Loctite Super Glue.
The original product
Aeromodellers and many other buyers made zap immensely profitable, especially after Coover’s patent expired, but by that time he had filed nearly 500 patents, many of them extremely successful.
So next time you are rescued while out flying by a drop of zap, think and thank Coover!