Natural rubber, also called latex, India rubber, Amazonian rubber, caoutchouc, or caucho, as originally produced, comprises polymers of the popular organic compound isoprene, with minor pollutants of other organic compounds, including water. Indonesia and Thailand are two of the world’s leading rubber producers. Prototypes of polyisoprene that are utilized as natural rubbers are labeled as elastomers.
In the modern era, rubber is harvested principally in the form of the latex from the Hevea brasiliensis (rubber tree) or others. The latex is a milky, sticky colloid drawn off by creating holes in the bark and accumulating the fluid in containers in a technique called “tapping.” The latex is then filtered into the rubber that is ready for industrial processing. In major areas, latex is allowed to solidify in the collection cup. The coagulated lumps are processed and collected into dry forms for sale.
History of Natural Rubber
The first application of rubber was by the ancient cultures of Mesoamerica. The oldest archeological evidence of the use of natural latex from the Hevea tree comes from the Olmec culture, in which rubber was first employed for making balls for the famous Mesoamerican ballgame. Rubber was later adopted by the Aztec and Maya cultures – in addition to making balls, Aztecs used rubber for other purposes such as preparing containers. They also made textiles waterproof by infusing them with latex sap.
Charles Marie de La Condamine is attributed with including rubber samples to the Académie Royale des Sciences of France in 1736 CE.
In 1751 CE, he presented a paper by the famous researcher François Fresneau to the Académie (published in 1755 CE) that represented many of rubber’s properties. This has been known as the first scientific paper on natural rubber and its’ application.
In England, Joseph Priestley, in 1770 CE, noticed that a piece of the material was perfect for rubbing off pencil marks on a piece of paper, hence the name “rubber.” It slowly made its way around Britain.
In 1764 CE, François Fresnau found that turpentine was a rubber enzyme. Giovanni Fabbroni is credited with the naphtha discovery as a rubber solvent in 1779 CE. Charles Goodyear redeveloped vulcanization in 1839, although Mesoamericans had used rubber for balls and other objects as early as 1600 BCE.
South America remained the primary source of latex rubber used during much of the 19th century CE. Business interests heavily controlled the rubber trade, but no laws expressly prohibited the export of plants or seeds. In 1876 CE, Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 Amazonian rubber tree bulbs from Brazil and gave them to Kew Gardens in England. Only 2,400 of these sprouted. British administration then sent seedlings to India, Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), British Ceylon (Sri Lanka), British Malaya. Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia), and Singapore.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Africa’s Congo Free State was also a vital source of natural rubber latex, mostly harvested by forced labor and slaves.
King Leopold II’s colonial state ruthlessly imposed production quotas. Tactics to implement the rubber quotas included cutting the hands of victims to prove they had killed them. Army men often came back from raids with boxes full of chopped-off hands. Villages that opposed the implementation were demolished to encourage better compliance regionally.
In India, British planters launched commercial cultivation, although the British East India Company had already initiated the experimental efforts to grow rubber on an industrial scale as early as 1873 CE at the Calcutta Botanical Gardens. The first industrial Hevea plantations were installed at Thattekadu in Kerala in 1902 CE. In later years the farm expanded to Tamil Nadu , Karnataka, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. India today is the world’s 4th largest consumer and 3rd largest producer.
In Malaya and Singapore, commercial production was profoundly promoted by Sir Henry Nicholas Ridley, who worked as the first Scientific Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1888 CE to 1911 CE. He vividly distributed rubber seeds to many farmers and launched the first technique for tapping trees for latex without causing severe harm to the tree. Because of his open promotion of this crop, he is popularly recognized by the nickname “Mad Ridley.”