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Synthetic Rubber

We use Rubber in so many ways, it becomes a servant that follows us, literally, from the cradle to the grave……

As Ralph Wolfe’s poetic prose confirms, rubber is as indispensable to modern society as steel and wood and mortar. We use products made of rubber at work, at home, at play, even when we travel. Automobiles, trains and aircraft rely on it for safety and comfort. Industry uses it to produce hoses, belts, gaskets, tires, molding, and thousands of other products. Rubber in the modern world is omnipotent.

It comes to us from two sources: nature and man. Natural rubber is siphoned from cultivated trees on plantations in Asia and Africa. Synthetic rubber is man-made and is produced around the world in manufacturing plants that synthesize it from petroleum and other minerals.

Whether it’s natural or synthetic, rubber in its native form is virtually useless. But after chemicals are added, it takes on properties that, as Ralph Wolf noted, make it “totally unlike” any material the world has ever known. Depending on the chemicals used, products made of rubber can be as soft as a sponge, as resilient as a rubber band, or as hard as a bowling ball. As a result, we use thousands of rubber products with varying degrees of hardness in our daily lives.

Natural rubber has been available for centuries, synthetic rubber for less than a hundred years. Although man began experimenting with synthetic in 1906, not until after World War II did he improve the quality to the point that it rivaled that of natural rubber. Wartime necessity became the impetus for the emergence of synthetic on a large-scale basis when governments began building plants to offset natural rubber shortages.

Synthetic rubber plants were built around the world after 1945, primarily in Europe, North America, and Japan. In 1960 use of synthetic surpassed that of natural for the first time. Synthetic has maintained the lead ever since.

Our Civilization

Civilization as we know it today is wholly dependent upon rubber. It is a material of myriad uses, totally unlike anything the world had previously known. It enters in a thousand ways into the fabric of our daily lives. It is indispensable in transportation, in communication, in furnishing us with light and power, in cushioning our bodies and protecting our senses from the jars and jolts, the noise and tumult of modern life. Foe of corrosion, abrasion and vibration it aids industry in avoiding the payment of hundreds of millions of dollars which these looters annually attempt to exact. Even in helping us to spend our leisure, rubber is essential, for there are few action games in which a rubber ball has no part. It is a servant that follows us, literally, from the cradle to the grave. We are ushered into the world by the rubber-covered hands of a doctor in surroundings made sterile and quiet by this ubiquitours substance, and we make our exit in a rubber-gasketed coffin hauled by a rubber-tired hearse.

– The late Ralph Wolf, chemist and author, in an article in the October 1964 edition of “Rubber World.”