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Accidental Rubber Creations

Although it's probably not something we consciously think about, rubber products play a major part in our everyday lives. Rubber is a substance we take for granted. Look around your home now and you’ll probably find a rubber product not more than a few feet away!

The most obvious products that spring to mind include rubber bands, erasers, rubber household gloves, car tyres, shoes, cookware and more. Aside from its obvious uses, rubber is also an important component of other applications, including seals and sealing devices. These are used in numerous industries, such as engineering, automotive, aerospace and medical sectors.


Vulcanised rubber

It may come as a surprise to learn that some rubber applications were created by accident! There are a number of great accidental creations that occurred by a quirk of fate. One of the most famous is vulcanised rubber, created by 19th-century American inventor, Charles Goodyear.

Merchants had been using natural rubber in clothing and footwear since the 1820s and the product generated great excitement at first. However, the initial thrill soon waned when it was discovered rubber couldn't withstand extreme temperatures. It would melt into goo in the summer heat, or freeze and crack in the winter.

Goodyear spent years trying to overcome the problems, eventually doing so by mistake. His unsuccessful experiments plunged his family into debt and some people declared him "mad". However, his work came to fruition in an unexpected way in 1839, after he had experimented with adding sulphur to the rubber to make it more stable.


How did it happen?

There are two different versions of how the happy accident occurred. According to a Reader's Digest biography about Goodyear, he went into a shop in Woburn to try and sell his rubber products to the proprietor. Legend has it that he became very excited about his newly developed rubber products and accidentally threw an eraser across the store as he waved his arms about.

It landed on a hot stove, but rather than melting, as rubber normally did, it merely charred, retaining its springy texture. It was at that moment the inventor realised his gum had become weatherproof.

However, there's also another tale of how Goodyear invented galvanised rubber by chance. The second anecdote claims he accidentally spilt his test tubes of sulphur, rubber and lead onto a hot stove in his laboratory. Rather than melting, the substance charred, despite the direct heat. So, he had already reached his goal, without even knowing it!


Silly Putty

As another accidental discovery, Silly Putty was made as result of experiments surrounding rubber. During World War II, US engineers were tasked with the job of finding a substitute for rubber. It was in short supply, as it was needed for aircraft tyres, military vehicle tyres, soldiers' boots and other items tied to the war effort.

James Wright, an engineer at General Electric in Connecticut, was experimenting with silicon, a readily available material, to see if he could make a rubber substitute. He tried adding boric acid to the mix. However, it turned into a bouncy, gooey mess and was nothing like rubber.

The substance was stretchy, bouncy and had some very odd properties - such as picking up an imprint when flattened against a comic or newspaper. Needless to say, the US Government wasn't interested in his "nutty putty", although it proved to be a big hit at parties as a novel way of entertaining guests.

Fast forward a few years and businessman Peter Hodgson saw the nutty putty in action at a party and realised how successful it could be if properly marketed. He packaged it in colourful plastic eggs and called it "Silly Putty", putting it on the market at Easter. It was a massive hit with kids and the new toy was born.


Serious uses for silly substance

Strangely enough, the substance did have a serious use a quarter of a century after its invention. It was used by astronauts in 1968 on the Apollo 8 mission to keep their tools stuck down in zero gravity! It also became known for picking up dirt or lint and for keeping a wobbly table leg stable. The public found all sorts of new uses for the gooey substance.

In 1989, students at New York's Alfred University carried out some tests on Silly Putty to find out how elastic it really was. They dropped a 100lb ball of the substance from the top of a building to see if it would bounce. Apparently, it bounced once, but then broke into pieces the second time it hit the ground! There didn't appear to be any scientific outcome to their experiment - it seemed to be just for fun!

Coruba offers a wide variety of rubber products but none of them were created by accident! They are all the result of Coruba's expertise as one of the UK's leading providers of high-quality rubber matting and other rubber products. For enquiries, please call 01702 560194.

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