Rubber materials have a very long history dating back to the 15th century. Christopher Columbus saw natives in Haiti playing with a ball that was made from the sap of a tree called “cau-uchu”. This was somewhere between 1493 – 1496.
Around the 1600s, natives in Central America and the West Indies were said to have produced balls and waterproof boots.
Then Charles de la Condamine introduced natural rubber to the world in 1736 and the rubber industry grew steadily and became the main export for some tropical countries.
The material got its name “rubber” when John Priestly realized in 1770 that it could erase pencil marks.
In 1820 Thomas Hancock invented a machine that was able to soften, mix and shape rubber, which was called the “masticater”.
A few years later Charles Goodyear made an amazing breakthrough that allowed the rubber industry to expand so that the supply of rubber products could meet the demand.
He discovered the process called ‘vulcanization’ in 1839, where natural rubber is heated so that there is a chemical change in it that makes it strong and elastic (stretchable).
His breakthrough opened up the rubber shoe and tire industry. The famous Goodyear tire brand was named after him.
In 1876, thanks to the secret plan of Sir Henry Wickham who carried about 70,000 rubber seeds from Brazil to London, rubber plantations spread rapidly throughout the world, especially in Asia (Singapore, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia), and Africa.
Since then for over 200 years, rubber plantations have soared in these countries, and in some like Sri Lanka it is third largest export crop.
The rubber seed is first planted in a pot and once it has firmly taken root, it is taken out and planted in a plantation where it grows for about 6 years.
The substance that is used to make rubber products is called latex. This sap flows from the tree bark when little pieces of it are shaved off a particular way.
Once shaved off, little bowls (sometimes coconut shells) are fixed under where the shaving was removed so that the latex flows into it.
On a rubber plantation that has over hundred trees, this process, called “tapping” is done to every single tree.
Once the latex is collected it is taken for treatment (where it is vulcanized) and eventually made into rubber goods that are sold.
There are two types of rubber; natural rubber and synthetic or artificial rubber. Natural rubber is what is made from the latex sap of rubber trees. Synthetic rubber is produced by mixing certain chemicals and oils.
Rubber is used for many things such as tires, pencils, mats, inflatable objects like pools, balls, and playthings, and certain building materials.
As much as rubber is a useful product, when rubber products cannot be used anymore they are discarded. Recycling rubber has now become increasingly important.
It helps keep rubber scraps like old tires out of landfills, and it is good for businesses if they can recycle and reuse rubber to produce many other things.
With environmental pollution getting worse, many companies and governments have started recycling rubber because as energy prices increase, producing new rubber products become more difficult and expensive.
Therefore, you can do your part in recycling rubber too. If you find an old rubber tire, make a rubber tire swing out of it. You can also buy products made of recycled rubber.
Despite these problems, the rubber industry has continued to grow, and gives many people jobs, especially in developing countries. It is a safe, strong, and long lasting product, which has many great uses.