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Rubber: Past, Present and Future

Ancient rubber

The ancient Mayan People used latex to make rubber balls, hollow human figures, and as bindings used to secure axe heads to their handles. Latex is the sap of various plants, most markedly the rubber tree. When it is exposed to the air it hardens into a springy mass. The Mayans learned to mix the rubber sap with the juice from morning glory vines so that it became more durable and elastic, and didn't get quite as brittle. Both the rubber tree and the morning glory were important plants to the Mayan people. The two plants tended to grow close together. Combining their juices, a black substance with the texture of a gum-type pencil eraser was formed.

Vulcanized rubber

In 1736 several rolled sheets of rubber were sent to France where it fascinated those who saw it. In 1791, an Englishman named Samuel Peal discovered a means of waterproofing cloth by mixing rubber with turpentine. English inventor and scientist, Joseph Priestly, got his hands on some rubber and realized it could be used to erase pencil marks on sheets of paper.

Thomas Hancock was an English inventor who founded the British rubber industry. He invented the masticator, a machine that shredded rubber scraps, allowing rubber to be recycled after being formed into blocks or rolled into sheets. In 1820, Hancock patented elastic fastenings for gloves, suspenders, shoes and stockings

On March 17, 1845, Stephen Perry of the rubber manufacturing company Messers Perry and Co, Rubber Co Manufacturing in London patented the fist rubber bands made of vulcanized rubber. Perry invented the rubber band to hold papers or envelopes together.

Modern rubber

Today about three quarters of the rubber in production is a synthetic product made from crude oil. World War II cut the United States off from rubber supplies worldwide, and they stepped up production of synthetic rubber for use in the war effort. There are about 20 grades of synthetic rubber and the intended end use determines selection. In general, to make synthetic rubber, byproducts of petroleum refining called butadiene and styrene are combined in a reactor containing soapsuds. The latex is coagulated from the liquid and results in rubber "crumbs" that are purchased by manufacturers and melted into numerous products.

Modern day rubber bands have many uses.  A Google search of what to do with rubber bands produces thousands of suggestions.  Here are a few you may not have considered:

  • Loop rubber bands over the ends of closet hangers to prevent clothing from slipping off and onto the floor.
  • Wrap a rubber band around the upper part of a wooden spoon’s handle to keep it from sliding down into your mixing bowl.
  • Slide one over your wrist if you need a visual reminder of some task or appointment.
  • Or to discourage negative thoughts or behaviors?
  • Keep one around your remote control so the batteries don't come flying out if you drop it.
  • Wrap a thick rubber band part-way up a broom’s bristles to reshape and revive its shape.
  • Use one to grip jar lids that won't open.
  • Mark guests' bottles and cups with different colored bands during a party.
  • Stretch one vertically over a paint can, and use the taut band to wipe excess paint off your brush.
  • Secure flowers in place with clear bands before you place them in the vase.

No matter how you use rubber bands, these handy little loops of elastic will continue to provide solutions for daily life.

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