Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rubber Dub Dub

Fifteen years later I still laugh about the rubber bands I bought one summer in Bangkok. The specific need at the time is long forgotten, but I thought to find a small package of rubber bands, hand over a dollar or so and go on about my business. It turned out that the ‘small’ bag of rubber bands purchased that day in a small general store somewhere in Bangkok lasted for almost twelve years. The bag was about the size of a sack of potatoes and cost something like thirty-five cents. I took the sack of rubber bands home to Tokyo and used them for the next decade or longer.

Every once in a great while an invention comes along that changes the way people do things all over the world. Consider the impact that things like ballpoint pens, paper clips, and Scotch tape have had on our lives. These examples are relatively new conveniences when considered alongside the ancient appearance of the common every day rubber band. The history of the rubber band has roots that go back a few thousand years to the Mayan civilization of Central America. The Mayans used the sap from rubber trees combined with the juice of morning glory vines to create an elastic-like material that they used for binding or bundling things. They also used the same rubber to make balls, hollow human figures, rubber bottles, and to bind axe heads to handles. Exposed to air, the sap of a rubber tree hardens into a springy mass, but the Mayans learned that by mixing it with the morning glory juice it became more durable, elastic and less brittle.

The modern form of rubber came from a recipe devised by Charles Goodyear, the man whose name is on all those tires. Prior to 1839 rubber was subject to weather conditions; hot and sticky weather made rubber hot and sticky and cold made the rubber hard and brittle. Somewhere along the way in Mr Goodyear’s tinkering, he accidentally dropped a mixture of rubber, lead and sulphur onto a hot stove. The result was a weather-proof substance that snapped back to its original form if stretched. They called the process vulcanization after the Roman god of fire. Time has produced greater improvements and today a variety of chemicals are added to the rubber before it is poured into molds, heated and cured. We have church pastor and inventor Joseph Priestly to thank for the name “rubber.” In 1770 he discovered that the gum from Indian rubber could be used to rub out lead pencil marks. He invented the eraser and named the material rubber.

The modern form of rubber bands was first invented in 1845 by Englishman Stephen Perry at his rubber manufacturing company in London. He came up with an idea to create loops of elastic rubber to holds items like paper and envelopes together. Once these loops of rubber got into the hands of the public there was suddenly a great bloom of ways to use them for both work and play.

Rubber bands are primarily manufactured using natural rubber because of its superior elasticity. A lot depends upon the purity of the rubber used. In most cases higher quality rubber bands weigh less than lower quality bands. Higher quality bands also tend to have more stretch than those of a lower quality. Cost wise, higher quality rubber bands weigh less and are more often a better buy, offering more rubber bands per pound. Like everything else, rubber bands age. Exposure to heat, air and sunlight will hasten their becoming brittle. Rubber bands packed in an airtight bag or container, stored in a cool, dark place will last longer.

1 comment:

  1. "Rubberband man
    Rubberband man
    How much of this stuff
    do he think we can stand?
    So much rhythm, grace
    and debonair for one man..."

    --The Spinners


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America