Mozart the gambling debtor
Could outrageous debt from gambling have killed the greatest composer of all time? Many believe that this is partially true. According to documents, on May 2, 1789 Mozart borrowed 1000 thalers (Prussian currency) from his friend Prince Karl Lichnowsky to afford transportation from Berlin to Vienna. This was a sizeable amount and with an interest rate of 4%, it grew to about twice Mozart’s annual income. As a side note, this rate of 4% was not the standard 5% that was charged at that time. It was a gift since Mozart and the prince were friends and fellow free masons. Later, the prince decided to sue Mozart and won. The successful judgment meant that half of Mozart’s salary was to be garnished.
Why did Mozart borrow money? It turns out that he and the prince were traveling together until they reached the city of Berlin. The prince quickly needed to return to Leipzig(close to Vienna) in order to make some military decisions. Mozart could have taken the coach ride back with his friend but he wanted to do a music tour of Berlin thinking he could earn a lot of money. Sadly, the tour wasn’t successful so Mozart had to return to Vienna and pay the expense on his own.
Mozart’s letters have been saved for antiquity and they help paint a picture of the financial duress that he suffered during the last 2.5 years of his life. In one of his letters to his free mason friends, he stated that he would perish if he didn’t get the money that he needed. Perhaps this was written during the time he was being sued.
It’s interesting that Mozart’s yearly income was about 8 times more than the average person of the day. Unfortunately, his habit of gambling was his undoing. It was a part of his lifestyle to ward off the loneliness he felt while touring. In one of his letters to his wife, he stated that he was lodging directly opposite of a casino. During his social excursions, he would spend time in “masonic casinos” which were cafes owned by his masonic friends. Mozart’s financial situation got so bad at one point that he sold all of his house’s furniture and wrote multiple letters to friends requesting money.
Anyway, after years of financial mismanagement, the court judgment against him by his friend Prince Lichnowsky was the final nail in the coffin. A few weeks later he succumbed to rheumatoid fever and his debts were then passed onto his wife. It’s speculated that she was able to pay back the sum of the judgement by hosting benefit concerts in her late husband’s name. After this difficult time she lived in comfort for more than 50 years, even giving loans to others when the need arose.
Charles Goodyear the noble debtor
Charles Goodyear was a man of many financial woes. But as the father of modern commercial rubber, one would think otherwise. Goodyear’s problems began when he overestimated the potential of his thriving hardware retail store in New Haven, Connecticut. Thinking that he could expand his customer base to the mid-atlantic and southern states, he shipped products out expecting to be paid. however, many customers from the south reneged on payment because of a recession caused by the Tariff Act of 1828. Due to this non-payment, Goodyear was unable to pay his own debts and subsequently went to a debtors prison in 1930. To make things worse during this first wave of financial woes, two of his children died.
Disillusioned, Goodyear became obsessed with the idea of improving upon a new material called rubber. Its elastic properties provided commercial promise like nothing else. but it had a big drawback. On extremely hot days it would lose its form and melt. For years he worked in his family’s kitchen trying to make rubber robust in any temperature. Despite his efforts, he rarely received any money and between 1834 and 1838 he went to a debtors prison twice more. He did see a little hope with his sales of rubber table cloths but they aged poorly. Finally he received money from a business partner to build a factory. But 3 months later the partner went into bankruptcy and the factory closed.
In 1838, Goodyear met a man named Nathaniel Hayward who had been able to solve the problematic over-stretching properties of rubber by adding sulpher. But instead of the not so pleasant rubber smell, rubber products smelled like sulpher. This was solved one day when he accidentally spilled some of his sulpher-laden liquid rubber on a hot burner. instead of incinerating, it charred into a hard but flexible material.
For the next year, Goodyear experimented with the variables of heat, pressure and sulpher in order to make the most reliable rubber. Then in 1840 he was sent to a debtors prison again for not paying a $5 hotel bill. At the time he was also dealing with bouts of gout and dysentery. The biggest blow that year came with the death of his 6th child.
In 1844 he finally came up with the optimal rubber manufacturing process and filed for a patent. But patent pirates kept him busy in court. In all, he fought 32 infringements which prevented him from being focused on his rubber manufacturing aspirations. They also prevented him from quickly filing a patent in England. When he finally managed to file, it was rejected because a man by the name of Thomas Hancock had filed a similar patent a few weeks prior. Hancock had received a rubber specimen of Goodyear’s and manged to figure out the manufacturing process because he knew that sulpher was an ingredient.
In all, Goodyear spent 8 years fighting a losing battle with Hancock in court and for the rest of his life, he was engaged in other court battles. In 1860 he was informed that one of his daughters was dying. So he raced back to his native state of New York to see her. Upon arrival he was told that she had died and he then collapsed. Soon after he died as an unknown inventor, leaving behind around $200,000 in debt. Surely Charles Goodyear is the epitome of the adage, “Where one man sows, another reaps.”