The oldest rubber balls in the world date back to 1600BC and were played with by the Olmec – or ‘rubber people’ – in what is modern day Mexico. The Olmecs were the first major civilisation in Mexico and traded rubber throughout the region. Archaeological evidence suggests they invented the Mesoamerican Ballgame—a popular game in the pre-Columbian Americas played with balls made from solid rubber.
Because raw elastomers rarely have inherent physical properties that are useful in finished products, it is necessary to modify the rubber by the addition of active ingredients. The list of these ingredients and the amounts to be added are known as the formulation or the recipe. The standard method for presenting a formulation within the rubber industry is to indicate the amount of each ingredient used as a ratio to 100 parts of rubber.
Insulated with natural rubber, the first commercial undersea cable was laid between France and the UK in 1850. The first transatlantic cable was laid in 1858. But it was plagued by problems and only actually worked for a month. A later attempt in 1865 was more successful.
Long length products such as profiles (windscreen wipers, window surrounds, door seals etc), and hollow tubes are formed by the extrusion process. The extruder is most commonly designed like a meat grinder with a feed screw that drives rubber compound through a die. An alternative design, often referred to as a ram extruder and most commonly typified by the Barwell extruder is a hydraulic ram that forces rubber through a die.
The first oil resistant synthetic rubber, was made in 1932, is polychloroprene. It was originally given the trade name DuPrene by DuPont, and then later changed to neoprene. Its oil resistant properties make it well-suited for use in gaskets and hoses.
US chemist Charles Goodyear is credited with discovering how to vulcanise rubber after he accidentally spilled a mixture of rubber and sulphur on a hot stove. But he failed to register the patent for this in the UK. The ‘father of the UK rubber industry’, Thomas Hancock, mysteriously ‘discovered’ vulcanisation shortly after Goodyear did and filed the patent in England 8 weeks before Goodyear tried to.
Patented in England 1845, rubber bands are the most common product found today that are still usually made from natural rubber.
The William Clayton building (Ministry of Health) in Wellington New Zealand was the first in the world to be fitted with earthquake-resistant base isolator lead rubber bearings. Famous buildings that use rubber as part of earthquake resistant base isolators include LA City Hall, Apple’s Headquarters in California and the Tan Tzu Medical Center in Taiwan.
Natural rubber alone has over thirty grades including Ribbed Smoked Sheet, Pale Crepes, Brown Crepes, Compo Crepes, Thin Brown Crepes, Thick Blanket Crepes, Flat Bark Crepes and Pure Smoked Blanket Crepes, and this doesn’t even start to consider the special grades such as the Viscosity Controlled, Epoxidised, Carboxilated, Cyclized, Liquid, Superior Processing and Oil Extended options.