Harry Coover ’41, P’66, among whose many accomplishments is the invention of Super Glue, died Saturday night at home in Kingsport, Tenn. Coover was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Barack Obama in the fall. An article in Sunday’s New York Times quotes his daughter, Dr. Melinda Coover Paul:
“I think he got a kick out of being Mr. Super Glue. Who doesn’t love Super Glue?”
The article goes on to note, “One of his proudest accomplishments, Dr. Paul added, was that his invention was used to treat injured soldiers during the Vietnam War. Medics, she said, carried bottles of Super Glue in spray form to stop bleeding.”
Coover’s invention of Super Glue made a permanent impact on American society, with industrial, household and medical uses. Synthetic glues, dating as far back as 1750, were made of rubber, animal bones, starch, or milk protein. But through steady persistence, Coover discovered a unique adhesive while supervising a group of Kodak chemists investigating heat resistant polymers for jet-plane canopies. Super Glue, made from cyanoacrylate monomers, required neither heat nor pressure to bond, and the super-product hit the market in 1958. That same year, Coover appeared on TV’s “I’ve Got a Secret,” where he hoisted host Garry Moore off the floor with a single drop.
He was the first to recognize and patent cyanoacrylates as human tissue adhesives, used in many sutureless surgeries such as the rejoining of veins, arteries, and intestines, ophthalmic surgeries, dental surgeries, uncontrollable bleeding, and the repair of soft organs. Since the 1970s, tissue adhesives have been used for a variety of surgical applications including middle ear surgery, bone and cartilage grafts, repair of cerebrospinal fluid leaks, and skin closure.
A recipient of the Southern Chemist Man of the Year Award for his outstanding accomplishment in individual innovation and creativity, Coover also holds the Earle B. Barnes Award for Leadership in Chemical Research Management and the Maurice Holland Award. He is a medalist for the Industrial Research Institute, receiving their achievement award in 1999. He has been featured on television and in numerous journals. In 2004, Coover was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, where he joins the ranks of such inventors as Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
At a January, 2010, ceremony at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va., Jared Weeden ’91, director of Alumni Relations at HWS, conferred upon Coover the Medal of Excellence, which is awarded to an alumnus who, by reason of outstanding accomplishments in his particular business, profession or community service, has brought honor and distinction to his alma mater.
Coover received his B.S. in science in 1941 before earning his M.S. and Ph.D. from Cornell University. He worked for Eastman Kodak for 40 years, during which time he wrote 460 patents and 60 papers. In addition to his daughter, Coover is survived by sons H. Wesley III ’66, and Stephen, and four grandchildren.
The full New York Times article follows.
The New York Times
Harry Coover, Super Glue’s Inventor, Dies at 94
Elizabeth A. Harris • March 27, 2011
Harry Wesley Coover Jr., the man who invented Super Glue, died on Saturday night at his home in Kingsport, Tenn. He was 94.
The cause was congestive heart failure, his daughter, Dr. Melinda Coover Paul, said.
Dr. Coover first happened upon the super-sticky adhesive – more formally known as cyanoacrylates – by accident when he was experimenting with acrylates for use in clear plastic gun-sights during World War II. He gave up because they stuck to everything they touched.
In 1951, a researcher named Fred Joyner, who was working with Dr. Coover at Eastman Kodak’s laboratory in Tennessee, was testing hundreds of compounds looking for a temperature-resistant coating for jet cockpits. When Mr. Joyner spread the 910th compound on the list between two lenses on a refractometer to take a reading on the velocity of light through it, he discovered he could not separate the lenses. His initial reaction was panic at the loss of the expensive lab equipment. “He ruined the machine,” Dr. Paul said of the refractometer. “Back in the ’50s, they cost like $3,000, which was huge.”
But Dr. Coover saw an opportunity. Seven years later, the first incarnation of Super Glue, called Eastman 910, hit the market.
In the name of science, Mr. Joyner was not punished for destroying the equipment, Dr. Paul said.
Not long after, Dr. Coover made an appearance on the television show “I’ve Got a Secret,” which starred Garry Moore as the host. Dr. Coover’s secret was that he had invented Super Glue, and he was asked to demonstrate what it could do.
A metal bar was lowered onto the stage, and Dr. Coover used a dab of the glue to connect two metal parts together. Then, his daughter said, he grabbed hold of one and was raised in the air on the strength of his invention.
“Then Garry Moore jumped on, too!” she said. “And this is live television. But it worked. It absolutely worked.”
Nonetheless, Kodak was never able to capitalize commercially on Dr. Coover’s discovery. It sold the business to National Starch in 1980.
Dr. Coover was born in Newark, Del., on March 6, 1917. (Some sources report that he was born in 1919, but his daughter said 1917 was correct.) He studied chemistry at Hobart College and then received a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Cornell University. He worked at the Eastman Kodak Company until he retired and then worked as a consultant. In 2004, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Last year, President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Dr. Coover was in the hospital, his daughter said, but his family made sure he was able to get to Washington for the award.
“That took a long time to percolate through,” Dr. Paul said. “So it was really nice that it came.”
Dr. Coover held 460 patents by the end of his life. Nonetheless, Dr. Paul said, he didn’t mind being known by his “most outstanding” invention.
“I think he got a kick out of being Mr. Super Glue,” she said. “Who doesn’t love Super Glue?”
One of his proudest accomplishments, Dr. Paul added, was that his invention was used to treat injured soldiers during the Vietnam War. Medics, she said, carried bottles of Super Glue in spray form to stop bleeding.
Besides his daugther, Dr. Coover is survived by two sons, Harry III and Stephen, and four grandchildren. His wife of more than 60 years, Muriel Zumbach Coover, died in 2005.
Super Glue did not make Dr. Coover rich. It did not become a commercial success until the patents had expired, his son-in-law, Dr. Vincent E. Paul, said. “He did very, very well in his career,” Dr. Paul said, “but he did not glean the royalties from Super Glue that you might think.”