When CBS Sunday Morning presented a segment earlier this week on Harry W. Coover ’41, P’66, it wasn’t the first time the network had celebrated the life of the inventor of, among other things, Super Glue. Coover, a Hobart Medal of Excellence recipient, was also featured in 2015 on the CBS television show, “Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.”
It would be impossible, however, to truly capture Coover’s accomplishments on the small screen. The author of 460 patents, he spent 40 years in positions of increasing responsibility at Eastman Kodak, retiring as vice president for R&D, Chemicals Division in 1984. He and his team were responsible for advances in the fields of graft polymerization, organophosphorus chemistry, and olefin polymerization.
He was undoubtedly best known as the discoverer of cyanoacrylate monomers, chemicals with strong adhesive qualities. The discovery was an accident — Coover and his team were exploring the use of temperature resistant polymers on jet planes, but the chemicals created strong instant bonds with everything they touched, and were deemed “too sticky.” As Coover recalled years later, the contract was eventually cancelled, but the use of cyanoacrylate was only beginning.
Originally marketed as Eastman 910, the product that later was named Super Glue had myriad uses in industry, manufacturing, and for home use. Coover was perhaps most proud, however, of the fact that his invention was used to stop bleeding from soldiers’ wounds on the battlefield during the Vietnam War. A form of the glue is still used today as a human tissue adhesive in place of sutures to bond skin together cleanly and neatly following surgery.
In addition to receiving the highest honor of the Hobart Alumni Association, Coover was awarded many other accolades for his extended body of work. He was named the Southern Chemist Man of the Year for his outstanding accomplishments in individual innovation and creativity. He received the Earle B. Barnes Award for Leadership in Chemical Research Management, the Maurice Holland Award, and was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2004.
In 2010, the year before he died, Coover was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (NMTI) by President Barack Obama. The NMTI is the nation’s highest honor for technological achievement, and is awarded annually to individuals, teams, or companies for their outstanding contributions to America’s economic, environment, and social well-being.
As CBS noted in its Sunday morning story, Coover’s perseverance and intellectual curiosity paid off in the end, “making the case,” they said, “that when you stumble upon an unexpected discovery, just stick with it.”