February 7, 2011 at 2:18 am 1 comment

The easy answer is that it is the sap of a tree.

However, this hides the true romance of the discovery of rubber and its useful properties, such that the whole world now moves on rubber.

So let’s delve into history a bit.

The 15th century Spanish explorers ( read “conquerors”) of South America discovered that the natives (South American “Indians”) had dried the juice of a tree (hevea brasiliensis), rolling the resulting strips into a shape resembling a modern football, and kicking it about (barefoot of course), thereby laying the foundation for a whole lot of games which involved grown men kicking a rubber ball about.

For which they should be censured, no doubt.

The early explorers brought some of this material, called in those days “cauchouc”, back to Europe, where the scientific minds of the day couldn’t find a use for it, other than as an eraser for pencil marks, and as a bouncing ball curiosity.

Eventually other uses for it began to develop, amongst which were waterproofing of clothing (Macintoshes), but it was still a curiosity.

Then someone smuggled some small specimens of the tree, and some seeds, to the Kew Gardens in London, where they were propagated. At about that time, the use of rubber expanded dramatically, when John Boyd Dunlop invented the pneumatic tyre (1888).

Enterprising souls decided that the Malay Peninsula, then a British colony, would make a good spot to establish rubber plantations, and establishment of these occurred at a rapid pace, continuing on well past the middle of the 20th century.

When control of these was lost to the Japanese Army in 1940, it started a huge program to replace rubber with a synthetic replacement. Concurrently Germany was doing all it could to take over the only synthetic rubber sources in Romania, because of the strategic importance of rubber to a modern mechanised army.

Eventually the U.S.A. with a program second only in size to the development of the atomic bomb, developed a usable synthetic rubber which could be used on existing rubber processing equipment.

Its use continues today.

During the seventies, many rubber plantations ripped out their trees to replace them with palm oil production. Natural rubber prices are now at an all time high, due to flooded plantations, demand from China and India. I bet they wish they hadn’t!


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Forklift Attachments  |  April 18, 2011 at 11:04 am

    For tire enthusiasts, the word “rubber” will immediately spark an image of rubber tires in the brain. It’s nice to remember how rubber came about.


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