Introduction: Rubber: Quirky Science (00:60)
Over 100 years ago American merchantmen were selling shoes made out of a mysterious waterproof substance. But they melted in summer. This program reveals how this led to the discovery of rubber.
Ubiquitous Rubber (01:42)
The story of rubber goes back 3600 years. The Olmec people of Mexico extracted latex and created rubber. In 1493 Christopher Columbus noticed the natives in Haiti had bouncing balls and waterproof shoes made of a plant extract.
Rubber Introduced to the U.S. (01:30)
Rubber was introduced to the U.S. in the 1700s but it deteriorated in extreme temperatures. It did serve one purpose--a printer discovered it erased pencil marks. So English chemist Joseph Priestley proposed the name rubber for it.
Inventors set out to make rubber more resistant to temperature extremes. Charles Goodyear accidentally discovered how to cure rubber by adding sulphur and zinc oxide. The chemistry of vulcanization is explained and graphically shown.
An Invention That Changed the World (02:11)
Charles Goodyear's discovery revolutionized manufacturing. His patent was repeatedly infringed and he died bankrupt. But the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company was named in his honor. The rubber craze soon led to a resource monopoly.
Rubber Barons (01:47)
With surging demand, huge rubber plantations in Brazil generated great wealth from their monopoly until Englishman Henry Wickham stole the seeds of 70,000 rubber trees. The British Empire then assumed control of the world rubber market.
Rubber Tree Farming Takes Off (01:06)
In Singapore, Henry Ridley developed a way to harvest commercial quantities of latex without harming the trees. He led a successful crusade to convince farmers in Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere to switch from coffee to rubber trees.
Henry Ford was determined to secure an independent source for rubber for tires for Ford cars. But his efforts to grow rubber on his own plantation in Brazil were a disaster. His $200 million investment produced no rubber and was sold.
The Quest for Synthetic Rubber (01:49)
The industrial capitals of the world were all far distant from their rubber supplies, making them hard to defend. Thus arose the need for synthetic rubber. Thomas Adams tried to make rubber from chicle, but ended up inventing Chiclets gum instead.
The World's First Man-made Rubber (01:48)
The history of synthetic rubber started with German chemist Fritz Hoffman, who produced methyl isoprene, which he patented in 1909.
World War II Spurs Development of Synthetic Rubber (01:38)
The Japanese cut off 95% of the world's natural rubber supply. American scientists were ordered to develop synthetic rubber for the war effort. By war's end they were producing huge quantities of it. They came up with 14 types of synthetic rubber.
Inventions from Rubber Research (02:56)
Learning the composition of rubber allowed scientists to experiment with its components, creating all sorts of rubbers with different qualities, such as neoprene and silicone. Condoms are still made from latex, as they have been since 1844.
The Search for a Greener Rubber Continues (01:43)
The disposal of rubber waste is an environmental threat. Synthetic rubber requires petrochemicals to manufacture. Scientists are developing a synthetic rubber based on a substance in insect skin.
Credits: Rubber: Quirky Science (00:44)
Credits: Rubber: Quirky Science
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