Design icons: the rubber band


From my regular series of Design Icons written for ABC RN Blueprint. You can find others on my Blueprint and Podcasts pages.

The rubber band was broadcast on 30th October 2021. You can listen to the audio here.

*

A rubber band is the quiet little helper of an organised life. It may be a minor character in the sometimes competitive history of rubber itself but that doesn’t lessen its importance. Rubber was made using latex, the milky sap of an Amazonian rainforest tree, Hevea brasiliensis. It was imported from Brazil to Europe in the 18th century, and often used just as an eraser – a rubber to rub out pencil markings. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the first rubber plantations were established across south east Asia, but by then the rubber band was already becoming something of a hero.

It was invented in 1845 by a businessman called Stephen Perry. He had just taken over his father’s pen-making business in London and when a friend of his, the brilliantly named Thomas B. Daft showed him a new product created by a friend of his, Perry saw its potential. What Daft had shown Perry was rubber that had undergone a treatment to stabilise it, making it possible to create rubber tubing. Perry immediately realised that thinly slicing a rubber tube would create stretchy rings perfect for holding together papers, and much easier than tying them together with string. No one else thought much of it but he went ahead to patent the idea.

The waterproofing qualities of rubber had been known for some years, with clothing manufacturer, Charles Macintosh, putting it to perfect use in raincoats, using latex sandwiched between layers of cloth. The problem was that natural rubber was inherently unstable – it would soften when warmed and harden when cold. Another clothing manufacturer called John Hancock was obsessed with solving this issue, as was an American called Charles Goodyear. And while it was Goodyear who came up with the process of mixing latex with sulphur and then heating it to create a stable product, it was Hancock who patented the very same thing, calling the process vulcanization, after the Roman God of fire. There ensued, naturally, a war of words between the two, but Goodyear seems to have won the day as it’s him who is now credited with its invention. A tyre company even honoured him by naming their company after him.

Perry’s friend, Daft, was also a friend of Hancock so the rubber band’s appearance was a case of knowing the right people. Rubber would become an important product by the end of the century, perfect for everything from tubing to tyres. The rubber band was useful in a number of applications, used in children’s toy aeroplanes, bunching unkempt hair, and helping create an airtight seal for jars and bottles. Less appealingly, it’s become a vital part in the castration of young livestock in a process now called elastration.

The rubber band is therefore so much more than a stationery item. It is, in its rubbery little way, a distillation of a much bigger story, from raincoats to racing car tyres, wrapping around a whole tale of global invention.

Categories: Design, Icons, Other, radioTags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

annabellabraydotcom

This WordPress.com site is the bee's knees

Avisha Rasminda

Hi, I'm Avisha Rasminda. Twenty years old.

Ananda Only

an empty space between silence & stillness

Are we there yet?

Diversions, detours and discoveries

Nick Alexander

Author of From Something Old, The Road to Zoe, You Then Me Now, Things We Never Said, The Bottle of Tears, The Other Son, The Photographer's Wife, The Half-Life of Hannah, the 50 Reasons Series. And more...

Dr David T Evans, OBE NTF PFHEA RN(T)

Sexual health matters! It really does!

Dr. Eric Perry

Psychology to Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

Cole Moreton

Award-winning writer and broadcaster

Wildonline.blog

British Wildlife & Photography

Colin Bisset

writer, traveller, broadcaster

Place, Plots and Plans

The PlaceMatt Blog

yamey

ADAM YAMEY - Haikus, history and travel .. and much more!

viewer site

Barbara Heath & Malcolm Enright - our viewer site blog

Museum Travelers

Cultural travel for curious minds

kirilson photography

the stories behind the pictures, and vice versa

Not-So-Modern Girl

Thoughts of a twenty-something girl navigating her way one blog post at a time

Anthony Hillin

Training, Facilitation and Policy development

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.

MOVIE-WARDEN

T.V/Movie News & Reviews

SAVING OUR TREES - Marrickville municipality

Community Tree Watch - working to protect healthy public trees in Marrickville municipality from inappropriate removal

MOVIE MUSIC UK

Film Score Reviews by Jonathan Broxton since 1997

A life in books

Book news, reviews and recommendations

150 great things about the Underground

An unofficial birthday salute to a public transport titan

Mistakes & Adventures

What I've always wanted

Expedictionary

Literary Geography

UNSW Built Environment's Blog

Information from students and staff at Built Environment at the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia.

joe moran's words

on the everyday, the banal and other important matters

The Back Road Chronicles

Curious soul...and it makes me wanna take the back roads!

Fool for France

A house of one's own

Wee Notions

Notes on a napkin

ABOUT SOMETHING AROUND

There is no time to be bored in a world as beautiful as this.

Philip Butler Photography

Architecture & Observations

Susie Trexler

Secret Knowledge of Spaces

Rebecca Renner

Welcome to Gator Country

DynamicStasis

DynamicStasis is basically an attempt to think about and discuss integrity, beauty, and delight - in architecture and elsewhere.

%d bloggers like this: