Fun Facts

Who Invented Rubber Bands

Columbus was the first European to introduce Natural Rubber to Western civilization by bringing back simple rubber products to Spain used by Mayan Indians.

While scientists there were fascinated by the physical properties of Natural Rubber it was not until the American inventor Charles Goodyear discovered the Vulcanization process in 1839 that the modern Rubber Industry commenced.

The first rubber band was developed in 1843, by an Englishman named Thomas Hancock who sliced up a rubber bottle made by some New World Indians.  In addition to other initial rubber products, Hancock’s bands were of limited value because they were un-vulcanized.  Hancock did, however, advance the rubber industry by developing the masticator machine, a forerunner of the modern rubber milling machine used to manufacture rubber bands and other rubber products.

The main breakthrough in rubber band production occurred in 1845 when Englishmen Stephen Perry patented the first vulcanized rubber band and opened the first rubber-band factory.

How Rubber Bands are Made

The process to make bands can be summarized as follows:

  • Raw latex is harvested from rubber trees in small clumps. These are then collected together, purified, and combined with acetic or formic acid to form rubber slabs.
  • These slabs are squeezed between rollers to remove excess water and pressed into large bales or slabs often hundreds of pounds in weight.
  • The rubber is then shipped to a rubber factory, where the slabs are machine cut into small pieces and using a large mixer, combined with other ingredients. This includes sulfur to vulcanize it, pigments to color it, Stearic Acid, Antioxidant, Calcium Carbonate to increase or diminish the elasticity.  (Note: Some of these items can be added in the Milling instead of Mixing stage.)  Depending on the quality of rubber produced, varying amounts of fillers (normally clay or paraffin) can also be added at this stage.
  • Milling, the next phase of production, entails heating the rubber (a blended mass if it has been mixed, discrete pieces if it has not) and squeezing it flat in a milling machine.
  • After being milled, the heated flattened rubber leaves the milling machine, and is then cut into strips. Still hot from the milling, the strips are then fed into an extruding machine which forces the rubber out in long, hollow tubes (similar to how meat grinders produce ground beef). The excess rubber that builds up around the head of an extruding machine is cut off, collected, and placed back with the rubber going into the milling machine.
  • The tubing goes through a heat curing process where the rubber tubes harden. This is done by forcing the rubber tubing over aluminum poles called mandrels, covered with talc powder to keep the rubber from sticking. Although vulcanized, the rubber is too brittle to use and needs to be cured so it becomes elastic and usable. The poles are loaded onto racks then steamed heated in large compression chambers.
  • After hardening, the tubes are cut to varying widths to create different size bands. Then washed to remove excess talc after which they are packaged for eventual sale to the consumer.