Over the years we have built our name on the practice of selling high quality rubber stamps. But does anyone really know what exactly rubber is or how it is made? Would you believe that rubber actually comes from rubber trees? Yes, rubber trees actually exist (not money tree’s though – we’re still waiting on those)! When you stop to think about it, since the invention of modern rubber in 1839 by Charles Goodyear, the practice of using latex and rubber has skyrocketed and only continues to grow with trillions of doctors, nurses, lab technicians and others going through an innumerable amount of latex gloves on a daily basis. We have come to thoroughly rely on their potentially lifesaving properties (don’t forget the rubber glove shortage for the doctor’s fighting the Ebola outbreak). And let us not forget all of the billions of automobiles on the road in today’s age. But what would a car, motorcycle, or even a go-cart be without its rubber tires?
It is so easy to forget just how much we still rely on rubber in our daily lives despite living in a world of instant gratification. From erasers to the soles of your shoes, your car’s tires, and your dentist’s latex gloves, we are surrounded by rubber and more dependent on it than one may realize.
As much as we here at Simply Stamps would love to credit ourselves with bringing the gift of rubber into the world, that honor actually belongs to the indigenous peoples of ancient Central America and Mexico otherwise known as Meso America. Before Christopher Columbus set sail on the ocean blue in 1492, the Mayans, Aztecs, and other native tribes were already capitalizing on their natural resources such as the various species of rubber plants that occupy the area. But before we are able to delve into all the innovative ways that the Meso Americans utilized rubber, we must first talk about where they got it from. While we’ve already established that the rubber substance (latex) comes from trees, we have yet to discuss how the Meso Americans would take this raw material and turn it into an actual item.
The thing that is different and unique about rubber trees, is that the process of harvesting them does not require them to be cut down. Once a rubber tree matures to roughly six years of age, the sap of the tree can be collected. Believe it or not, it’s the sap of the tree that matters the most because it is known as natural latex. According to Dr. Craig Freudenrich, in order to best harvest a rubber tree, the harvester “makes a thin, diagonal cut to remove a sliver of bark…The fluid runs down the cut and is collected in a bucket. After about six hours, the fluid stops flowing. In that six-hour period, a tree can usually fill a gallon bucket. The tree can be taped again with another fresh cut, usually the next day.”
In the case of the Meso Americans, they would dry out the collected sap and turn it into various items that they used every day. Fabrics would be made water proof by applying a layer of the sap to their clothing; toys would be made, as well as primitive shoes and athletic equipment. Balls were formed with the hardened substance and the natives would play games with them – some of which Columbus and the other Spanish explores would watch. When Columbus took samples of the newly discovered substance back with him to Europe, it was considered a novelty.
When it came to the art of making shoes, a person’s feet would need to be dipped and dried repeatedly into the sap until a solid layer of rubber could form. Once the rubber was deemed thick enough, it would be peeled from the person’s foot and fashioned into a pair of shoes. It may seem tedious to make shoes this way, but this was the general practice for making shoes until roughly the 1800’s.
It has only been a few hundred years and look at how far technology has come! Massive manufacturing plants, are now fully dedicated to producing rubber, whether it’s for shoes, erasers, balls, car tires, and let’s not forget stamps! Next time with “What Is Rubber And Where Does It Come From?” we’ll introduce you to the modernization of rubber and its mass production thanks to the efforts of Charles Goodyear!