Rubber FAQs

Who discovered rubber?
The Indians of Central and South America were the first to utilize rubber’s unique properties. Christopher Columbus watched them play a game called “Tlachtlic,” a vigorous cross between basketball and football, with the object of directing a rubber ball through a stone ring.

What was the first practical use of rubber?
In England, Joseph Priestley, best known for his discovery of oxygen, noted that pencil marks could be “rubbed out” by the substance. From this early use, rubber derived its name.

What discovery marked the beginning of modern rubber technology?
Prior to 1839, the properties of rubber were dictated by the surrounding temperature. During the hot summer, rubber was sticky and malleable, while it became hard and brittle in the colder months. This was finally remedied by the discovery of the process of vulcanization. A mixture of rubber, white lead and sulphur was dropped accidentally upon a hot stove. When it was removed, the material was no longer affected by temperature. Despite stretching, it always returned to its original shape. This process of vulcanization made it possible to use rubber in raincoats, overshoes, and eventually many other products, including tires.

THE TWO TYPES OF RUBBER
What are the two types of rubber?
The two types of rubber in common use today are natural and synthetic. Natural rubber comes from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). When a tree matures at the age of six or seven years, the latex is collected from a diagonal incision in the tree trunk. The tapping process does not affect the health of the tree and the tree wound later heals itself. Synthetic rubber is made by man from petrochemical feedstocks. Crude oil is the principal raw material.

Where is natural rubber produced?
Today more than 90% of the natural rubber supply comes from Southeast Asia. As rubber trees require a hot, damp climate, they grow only in the “Rubber Belt,” an equatorial zone that stretches around the world. In 1876, the English, in recognition of the difficulties of securing quality rubber from the jungle, hit upon the idea of growing rubber on plantations. From their efforts, the cultivated rubber tree plantations of Southeast Asia and Africa have developed.

What accelerated the development of synthetic rubber?
The United States was cut off from virtually all of its sources of natural rubber in the Pacific during World War II. In order to meet the nation’s needs for this vital material, the government built synthetic rubber plants and the industry operated them. Synthetic rubber production jumped from 8,000 tons in 1941 to 820,000 tons in 1945. After the war, the government sold the plants to the industry.

How is synthetic rubber produced?
General purpose synthetic rubber has its origin in two gases: butadiene, a by-product of petroleum refining, and styrene, captured either in the coking process or as a petroleum refining by-product. When the two are mixed in the presence of soapsuds in a reactor, liquid latex results. The dry rubber in this milky liquid is then coagulated into crumbs, washed, dried, and baled ready for shipment.

Does the industry utilize more natural or synthetic rubber in its manufacturing process?
Approximately 70% of all rubber used is synthetic.

How many chemical types of rubber are there?
There is only one chemical type of natural rubber. However, there are approximately twenty different chemical types of synthetic rubber, and within each type there are many distinguishable grades. The different types of rubber, each with its own properties and advantages, allow industry to choose the rubber that most clearly meets the demands of an intended use.

TIRES
How much oil is required to produce a tire?
Approximately seven gallons. Five gallons are used as feedstock (from which the substances that combine to form synthetic rubber are derived), while two gallons supply the energy necessary for the manufacturing process.