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A brief history of rubber:
(If you would like an expanded version of these
pages in book form, Check out "TEARS OF THE
TREE" on Google or order from your local bookshop. Published by
O.U.P, ISBN 0-19-856840-1.
A new paperback edition is being released by
O.U.P on 3 April 2014 ISBN 978-0-19-870500.
Today rubber is an essential part of our lives
and its uses are legion, ranging from the simple office eraser (rubber)
to the foundations for buildings (as well as ladies), gaskets, seals,
inflatable objects of every description and the ubiquitous tyre.
If you want to make something that is airtight,
waterproof and/or stretches or bounces, then make it of rubber!
The industry as we know it today is something over 150 years old
although it was about 100 years before that that the first scientific
paper was written on this natural material.
The discovery of natural rubber by the western
world dates back to the late 15th /early 16th centuries in the West
Indies and Central America although we now know that it had been
used by the natives of those regions from at least 1600 BC. Indeed
the name of one of the oldest tribes – the OLMECS –
means the rubber people.
On this site you can discover how natural rubber
was associated from the dawn of history with blood and sacrifice,
how the Mesoamerican ball game was often not a game but a fight
to the death and, through the Mayan ‘Book of Life’,
how important the rubber ball was to the religious beliefs of the
Mayans. Given that the Mesoamerican ball game is known to be over
3,500 years old it is probably the first of all BOUNCING BALL games
Columbus' ship - The Santa Maria
The lives of the people involved with transforming
natural rubber from a curiosity to the material it is today are
described and we can see how many millions of native lives were
lost in satisfying the demand for rubber as the industrialised world
moved into the 20th century.
The first synthetic rubbers (or elastomers) were
commercially synthesised less than a century ago and their history
is one of academic research galvanized by two world wars. Today
there are several ‘general purpose’ synthetics and a
wide range of specialized materials which, in total, constitute
about 55% of the total elastomers market. The remainder is the natural
material derived mainly from the Hevea braziliensis tree which was
transplanted to countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka,
Thailand and Vietnam as the rubber plantation industry developed
to meet the demand which wild rubber could not satisfy.
Finally we can look at some of the simple chemistry
of rubbers, how and why they degrade and what can be done to slow
down the process. Browse the time line, with its 500 rubber-related
dates and events from 60,000,000BC to the end of the 20th century
and use the links to check out more details or just click on any
links on this page.