When was rubber created

The history of rubber

Milk from trees that weep

As early as the 3rd century AD, the Maya were making rubber balls, as archaeological finds near Guatemala City show. They scratched trees, caught their milk and let them dry. The sap of the rubber tree clumped into a more or less solid mass. The Maya called the tree Caa-o-chu, weeping tree.

The first seafarers who came to America from 1492 reported about products made of rubber. On his second trip to the New World, Christopher Columbus observed Indians playing with an elastic ball. That was in Haiti in 1495.

The Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés also reports on the game with the bouncing ball, which he was able to witness in the ball game houses of the Aztec ruler Montezuma. Neither Columbus nor Cortés showed any particular interest in the elastic material from which the balls were made.

From bird glue to hot air balloons

In the 16th century, the natives of today's Mexico succeeded in coating fabric with rubber and thus making it water-repellent. At the same time, rubber juice was used in Asia as bird glue, i.e. as a glue for catching birds. However, it was not until the naturalist Charles-Marie de la Condamine that it became aware of the benefits rubber could have.

In 1734 Condamine set out on an expedition to the Amazon. There he met Indian tribes who used the congealed sap from trees to seal boats and form balls for their children. The researcher took samples of the substance and examined its properties.

However, the raw material was unsuitable for further processing in Europe: During the long transport, the tree sap became tough and firm and could therefore no longer be processed. In the middle of the 18th century, two French researchers discovered several solvents for rubber, including turpentine.

This allowed the fabric to be shaped and processed. Various products were made from the new material, such as rubber shoes and hoses. The hot-air balloon of the French Jacques Charles, who took its maiden flight on December 1, 1783, was also made of silk that had been coated with rubber dissolved in turpentine.

Charles Goodyear invents vulcanization

In 1823, the Scot Charles Macintosh made a rubber-coated raincoat. This is why the English still refer to the garment as "Macintosh" to this day. In the past, rubber-coated clothing was sticky, especially in warm weather, and the material became brittle when it was cold. A number of researchers experimented with the raw material to improve its properties.

One of them was Charles Goodyear. He, too, initially produced clothing and other rubber products with changing business partners. An economic success did not set in, however, because Goodyear's goods could not withstand the summer heat either. The chemist ended up in prison several times for insolvency. When one of his sons died at the age of two, the family didn't even have the money for the funeral.

Nevertheless, Goodyear continued to experiment with rubber and combined the material with various other substances such as lead and nitric acid. In 1839 he finally achieved his breakthrough: He heated rubber together with sulfur and obtained a low-odor substance that was more elastic and stable in cold and warm conditions.

Goodyear invented vulcanization - and with it the first rubber. The term vulcanization goes back to Vulcanus, the Roman god of fire and blacksmithing.

According to an anecdote, Goodyear's invention came about by mistake because he simply forgot the rubber in or on the stove. However, there is no historical evidence for this story.

Brazil: Death penalty for sperm robbery

The development of air-filled car tires was a revolution in car construction. The demand for rubber rose rapidly in the second half of the 19th century.

At that time, the raw material came mainly from the Congo and Brazil. The tree that was best suited for rubber extraction grew in the South American state: "Hevea brasiliensis". Brazil banned the export of semen on pain of death.

In 1876 the English adventurer Henry Wickham managed to smuggle out seeds. They were germinated in a botanical garden in London and grown in Ceylon. These plants formed the basis for plantation rubber outside of South America. However, these plantations only became profitable around 1900.

In the primeval forests of the Congo, on the other hand, there were wild rubber plants, similar to those in Brazil. The land had been privately owned by the Belgian King Leopold II since 1885, who cruelly forced the locals to harvest rubber: his mercenaries took women and children hostage, burned villages and amputated limbs such as hands and feet in order to enforce certain rubber extraction quotas.

It was not until the public pressure increased in 1908 that Leopold II's regime of terror came to an end, partly due to the initiative of the British journalist Edmund Morel and the diplomat Roger Casement.

Germans are researching synthetic rubber

As early as the middle of the 19th century, researchers tried to produce rubber synthetically. In 1909 the German chemist Fritz Hofmann received the first patent in this field.

Initially, however, the synthetic rubber was more expensive than the natural product. He was also less resilient. Synthetic rubber gained in importance in the First World War, when the German Empire no longer received any imports.

In the mid-1920s, I.G. Paint industry created a new plastic with the name Buna. In 1936 the first car tires from Buna are presented at the International Motor Show.

Manufacturers need coal and lime as raw materials - both are available in Germany, which is otherwise rather poor in raw materials. During the Second World War, Buna was of immense importance to the country. Later, from the 1960s onwards, manufacturers mainly used crude oil as the basis for synthetic rubber.