Super glue was first discovered long before its purpose was determined. During World War II, Harry Coover worked for the chemical department at Eastman Kodak. In 1945, while attempting to design plastic gun sights for soldiers, he worked with chemicals known as cyanoacrylates. Cyanoacrylates are a family of strong fast-acting adhesives. Moisture causes these chemicals to polymerize. The material got stuck to everything and was a large inconvenience at first. In fact, so much so that this led to the abandonment of research on this material.
In 1951, Coover was working with a group of Kodak researchers while developing heat resistant canopies for jet planes when he encountered this adhesive again. Again, the stickiness led to frustration but this time he recognized it’s useful potential. The cyanoacrylates didn't need any pressure or heat to bond. When experimented with this glue, it formed permanent bonds. Coover received a patent for his discovery of “Alcohol-Catalyzed Cyanoacrylate Adhesive Compositions”, widely known as Superglue.
His employer packaged the adhesive and sold it as “Eastman 910”.
During the Vietnam War, field surgeons began using cyanoacrylates to treat war wounds. Cyanoacrylates were sprayed on the open wounds of soldiers, which stopped the bleeding instantly. This prevented wounded soldiers from dying of blood loss until they were transported to bases, where they could be properly medically treated. This preceded the FDA's eventual approval of medical grade cyanoacrylates for certain medical uses.
Over the course of his career, Coover was awarded more than 460 patents, wrote at least 60 papers, and was responsible for many advances in his field.
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- Anika Vashisht