The Journey of Rubber

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The Journey of Rubber

Charles Marie de La Condamine is credited with introducing samples of rubber to the Academie Royale des Sciences of France in 1736.

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The Journey of Rubber
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The Journey of Rubber

This French astronomer sent by the government to Peru brought home samples of the milky fluid and reported that the Indians used it for lighting. He wrote that it burned without a wick very brightly and that the Indians made waterproof shoes from it. 

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The Journey of Rubber
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The Journey of Rubber

European vessels had also carried rubber home, and experiments on it were conducted in France and Britain. A Frenchman manufactured suspenders by cutting a native bottle into fine threads and running them through a narrow cloth web. And Macintosh, a chemist from Glasgow, inserted rubber treated with naphtha between thin pieces of cloth and the material still bears his name.

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The Journey of Rubber
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The Journey of Rubber

In England, Joseph Priestley, best known for his discovery of oxygen, noted that pencil marks could be 'rubbed out' by the substance. From this early use, the rubber eraser derived its name.

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The Journey of Rubber
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The Journey of Rubber

Demand for finished rubber articles started increasing gradually. No one knew at that time that the properties of rubber are dictated by the surrounding temperature. During the hot summer, rubber is sticky and malleable, while it is hard and brittle in the colder months. 

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The Journey of Rubber
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The Journey of Rubber

The process of vulcanisation makes rubber the product we see today. A mixture of rubber, white lead and sulphur was accidentally dropped on a hot stove. When it was removed, the material was no longer affected by temperature. Despite stretching, it always returned to its original shape. This process of vulcanisation made it possible to use rubber in raincoats, overshoes and eventually many other products, including tyres.

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The Journey of Rubber
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The Journey of Rubber

Two types of rubber are commonly used today-natural and synthetic. Natural rubber comes from the rubber tree. When a tree matures at the age of six or seven years, the latex is collected from a diagonal incision in the tree trunk. Synthetic rubber is made by man from petrochemical feed stocks. Crude oil is the principal raw material.

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The Journey of Rubber
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The Journey of Rubber

Today, more than 90% of the natural rubber supply comes from Southeast Asia. As rubber trees require a hot, damp climate, they grow only in the 'Rubber Belt', an equatorial zone that stretches around the world. Approximately 70% of all rubber used is synthetic.

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The Journey of Rubber
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The Journey of Rubber

There is only one chemical type of natural rubber. However, there are approximately twenty different chemical types of synthetic rubber. 

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The Journey of Rubber
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