Natural rubber is a chain polymer of isoprene, known as caoutchouc when pure; its elasticity is due to the chains being randomly coiled, but tending to straighten out when the rubber is stretched. Known to have been used by the Aztecs since the 6th century AD, and first known in Europe in the 6th century AD, it was a mere curiosity until the pioneer work of Thomas Hancock (1786–1865) and Charles Macintosh (1766–1843).
History of rubber1493 – On his second voyage to America Christopher Columbus saw some natives in Haiti playing a game with a curious ball which had the astonishing property of bouncing when it struck the ground.
1521 – During the Spanish occupation of Mexico, Spanish explorers found the native people using the same elastic substance for many purposes, and a variety of stories about it reached Europe. It was reported, for instance, that they stuck brightly colored feathers onto their bodies as ornaments, using a kind of whitish milky substance obtained from a plant (rubber latex). Another use to which they put the latex was to mold it round their feet so that, when it dried and hardened, it formed a primitive kind of footwear.
1735 – Charles de la Conamine, a Frenchman, explored the region of the Amazon, searching for the rubber plant which no European had ever seen. The native name for it was 'hévé' or 'cao ochu' which means 'tree of tears'. The alternative name for rubber, caoutchouc, is derived from this. After an adventurous journey in explored country, Condamine found the Hevea tree; he sent a detailed description of it to his government together with some objects he had made from the latex obtained by cutting the bark. The mysterious substance was carefully studied and analyzed.
1763 – Some French chemists succeeded in dissolving the rubber in oil of turpentine and in ether.
1793 – An Englishman called Peal obtained the patent for water-proofing fabric with a solution of rubber in turpentine. Prior to this practically the only use for it had been as an eraser for pencil marks; hence the English name for it, 'india-rubber' – rubber from the Indies.
1823 – Charles Macintosh, a Scottish chemist,improved the method of water-proofing fabric and founded the first factory for rubber articles. Among its products were water-proof coats, which came to be called 'macintoshes'. These early European rubber goods, however, had serious defects. They perished very quickly and became soft in hot weather. In cold weather they became hard and lost their elasticity.
1839 – A chance discovery by an American, Charles Goodyear, who produced a revolution in the rubber industry because of his discovery of vulcanization.
Synthetic rubbersSynthetic rubbers have been produced since World War I, and the industry has developed greatly during and since World War II. They are long chain polymers known as elastomers; the main types are: copolymers of butadiene/styrene, butadiene/nitriles and ethene/propylene; polymers of chloroprene (neoprene rubber), butadiene, isobutylese, and silicones; polyurethanes, polysulfide rubbers and chlorosulfonated polyethenes. Some latex (natural or synthetic) is used as an adhesive and for making rubber coatings, rubber thread, and foam rubber. Most, however, is coagulated, and the rubber is treated by vulcanization and the addition of reinforcing and inert fillers and antioxidants, before being used in tires, shoes, rainwear, belts, hoses, insulation, and many other applications.
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