Rubber: An ancient invention of mankind

Christopher Columbus first witnessed natives in Haiti playing with a rubber ball in 1495.

By   |  Published: 8th Apr 2021  3:17 pm

Natural rubber comes from the sap of the Hevea Brasiliensis tree, which are native to the Amazon rainforests. It takes six years before trees can produce sap – they are then productive for around 28 years.

While vulcanized rubber — rubber that’s been processed with heat and chemicals to increase its strength and stability — was invented in the 1800s, the Olmecs, Aztecs and Mayans were known to use the sap from these trees to create a natural rubber. They made rubber balls and boots around 1600 BC. They still play a ball game, with a rubber ball, that’s thousands of years old.

The Mayans referred to rubber as kik, which meant blood, while natives of Mexico called it olli or castilloa, and West Africans named it funtumia elastica.

In order to give rubber characteristics like bounciness and durability, the people would mix the sap with juice from morning glory plants.

Christopher Columbus first witnessed natives in Haiti playing with a rubber ball in 1495.

In the late 18th century, Englishman Edward Nairne accidentally picked up a cube of sap to erase a pencil mark instead of a breadcrumb and noticed that the rubber sap worked better.

Charles Goodyear invented a process called vulcanisation, which involved adding sulphur to the latex mix, to make it stronger and more reliable.

Although rubber first came from South America, 94% of the world’s natural rubber now comes from plantations in South-East Asia.

The first rubber factory was established in 1803 in Paris.

The first rubber band was invented by Englishman Stephen Perry in 1845.


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