• Who Invented Rubber?

    Like many inventions and ingenuities of the past 200 years, the commercialization of rubber to produce consumer products was a group effort. 
    While Charles Goodyear is credited with developing the process that made it possible to create rubber products, you can’t accurately discuss the history of rubber without mentioning early Mesoamerican people, 18th century English entrepreneurs or German and Russian chemists.

    When was rubber first invented? That depends on what kind of rubber you mean—and your definition of “invented.” 



    There Are 2 Main Types of Rubber

    There are two different types of rubber. Natural, which comes from rubber trees, and synthetic, which is oil-based and created artificially. We’ve discussed the difference between natural and synthetic rubbers before.
    Natural rubber has a much longer history than synthetic rubber, which wasn’t invented until the 20th century.

    Who were the first people who used rubber? 

    Rubber trees, or Hevea brasiliensis, originated in South America. Archaeological records show the Olmec people were the first to create a tangible, usable rubber “product.” Because natural rubber melts in heat and tends to get sticky when handled, they mixed harvested latex with morning glory juice for a sturdier material.

    The Olmecs used this rubber to make balls for a game we call the “Mesoamerican ballgame.” Later, Aztecs and Mayans in the same area began to use natural rubber to create toys, balls and boots. The Aztecs also used rubber for waterproofing clothing and molding containers. 

    Historical records credit Christopher Columbus as the first European to witness rubber and its many uses when his ships ran aground on the island of Haiti. However, it wasn’t until the 1700s when Europeans began bringing samples of rubber back to their homelands for study rather than practical use.

    Why is it called rubber?

    A century or so later, an English chemist named Joseph Priestly realized rubber could be used to “rub out” pencil marks in his notes, which is how we got the name rubber. 
    Around the same time, another Englishman named Edward Nairne discovered the same property when he accidentally grabbed a cube of sap to remove his pencil markings rather than his usual bit of breadcrumb. When he realized the sap worked better, he created and sold the first rubber eraser in Europe.
    Shortly thereafter, the world’s first rubber factory was established in Paris in 1803 and began manufacturing natural rubber products. Thus began the commercialization of rubber and human interest in rubber products. 
    Fun fact: The rubber band was invented in 1845 by another Englishman named Stephen Perry. Shout out to the English for laying the groundwork for today’s rubber industry!

    When was synthetic rubber invented?

    Up until this point, the only rubber material available was natural, fully derived from the rubber trees primarily found in South America. Natural rubber is a great material, still used today, but has its limitations, especially in the 1800s. 
    Natural rubber doesn’t age well, doesn’t hold up against bad weather and sun and tends to get sticky when heated and extremely stiff when cold. At this point, we were only curing the outside of rubber, so these qualities were magnified and very frustrating. 

    Whenever we know someone is looking for an indepth breakdown of the story of vulcanization - we always point them towards the video below:
    Charles Goodyear learned about the limitations of natural rubber the hard way. One day in 1834, he went to the store to buy a rubber life-preserver and accidentally stumbled into his new hobby. He became extremely interested in the material and its potential uses.
    A bit later, the U.S. government granted Mr. Goodyear a contract to produce rubber mail bags, which he fulfilled. However, the bags deteriorated rapidly and acted up in extreme weather. To solve this problem, he experimented with different methods, eventually developing vulcanization, the process of heating and curing the entire mass of rubber to make it extremely sturdy and durable.
    While Goodyear was perfecting the process in the U.S., another Englishman, Thomas Hancock, was inventing the same thing overseas. While Goodyear is credited with inventing the process of vulcanization, Hancock is credited with inventing the term vulcanization, after the Roman god of fire.
    Goodyear received a patent for his invention in 1844, but never made any money from it. He died in 1860 and his legacy may have been forgotten if it wasn’t for the modern rubber industry and Akron, Ohio. 

    The development of the rubber industry

    Vulcanization was a pivotal point in the rubber industry. Now that rubber was sturdy and long-lasting, it could be used for a variety of products. 
    In 1889, John Dunlop from (you guessed it) England produced the first commercial tire for bicycles, followed by the first commercial automobile tire in 1906. The rise of the automobile industry in the early 20th century spurred the growth of the rubber industry and a need for ingenuity in rubber products.
    Russian chemists are credited with creating the first lab-based synthetic rubber, Polybutadiene. But it wasn’t until World War II when many countries struggled to get enough rubber for weapons and supplies that the demand for synthetic rubber skyrocketed. 
    Chemists worldwide began developing their own oil-based rubbers for commercial use and the industry grew rapidly throughout the 20th century: 
    • Buna-N, Buna-S, 1930s
    • SBR, 1930s
    • Neoprene, 1931
    • Butyl rubber, 1940s
    • Viton, 1950s
    • Polyurethane rubber, 1950s
    • EPDM, 1960s
    • Isoprene rubber, 1960s
    With natural rubber in full swing and synthetic rubbers on the rise, Northeast Ohio arose as the world leader of rubber manufacturing. Many companies, including Goodyear, sprung up in the Akron, Ohio area, then called the “Rubber Capital of the World.” 
    Though Ohio is no longer the world’s largest producer of rubber, the area remains home to many companies, including Goodyear, Cooper, Firestone and us—Custom Rubber Corp. For over 50 years, we have proudly called the Cleveland area home. Every part we make is made here in the U.S.A.
    We use Neoprene Rubber, Nitrile Rubber, Silicone Rubber, EPDM Rubber, Viton®, Butyl Rubber, SBR Rubber, and Natural Rubber to create molded rubber solutions and custom compounds that deliver specialized performance no off-the-shelf product can match.

    We help you select the best, most cost-effective option for your business needs. Get your rubber materials questions answered and grab a quote from our team of experts today. 

    Posted Tuesday, October 11, 2022 by: Global Administrator
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