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Stephen Perry: The Rubber Band

Rubber bands have been holding things together for the past 173 years. Stephen Perry, a British inventor and businessman, invented the rubber band to hold paper and envelopes together in the mid-19th century.

Rubber bands

© Tierney / Adobe Stock

His company, Messrs Perry and Co Rubber Manufacturers of London, made products from vulcanised rubber. He came up with the idea of the rubber band after fellow inventor Charles Goodyear invented the material in 1839.

Vulcanisation, a chemical process for converting polymers into more durable materials, gave the rubber a higher tensile strength, improved its resistance to abrasion and allowed the elastic to remain flexible and supple over a wider range of temperatures.


Rubber band history

Perry patented the concept of the rubber band on 17th March 1845, calling his invention elastic bands. He made them by forcing the rubber through a die (a process known as extruding) and into a long tube to provide the general long, thin shape.

He then put the tubes on mandrels, cured the rubber with heat and sliced it width-wise. This caused the tube to split into multiple sections, creating rubber bands. His patent, granted by the government, gave his company the sole right to manufacture and sell his invention.

Once Perry had patented his invention, the production of rubber bands began in earnest at Messrs Perry and Co. They were advertised as being useful for holding together "papers, letters, etc" and proved an instant hit with the public. Perry opened the UK's first rubber band factory.


Rubber bands today

The manufacture of rubber bands today still uses natural rubber, rather than the synthetic rubber used for some products. This is because natural rubber offers superior elasticity. It is made from the latex of the rubber tree and is acquired by tapping into the tree's bark layers.

Rubber bands are now manufactured in factories all over the world. Various machines are used in the manufacturing process, although the finished product is pretty much the same as it was in the mid-19th century, when Perry patented his invention.

Today, rubber bands have far more uses than holding together letters and envelopes, although the biggest consumer of rubber bands is the United States Post Office. The service spends millions of dollars every year to help in the sorting and delivering of mail.

The newspaper industry also uses large quantities of rubber bands to keep individual newspapers rolled up neatly for home delivery.

Rubber bands are used in the agricultural and the floristry industries - vegetables such as celery can be bunched together with rubber bands, which can also hold together bouquets. They can be used to hold the delicate petals of flowers such as tulips together to keep them safe in transit.


Alternative uses

New uses for rubber bands have been invented during the 20th and 21st centuries. Unscrew a tight jar lid by stretching a rubber band around it to improve the grip, or keep clothes from slipping off hangers by looping rubber bands over each end of the hanger to provide friction.

Pick up a dropped object in a narrow spot by stretching a nylon stocking over the vacuum's extension and securing it with a rubber band. Use the suction to pick up the item (whether it's under the bed or down the back of the settee), without the item being sucked up into the vacuum's mechanism.

Some people collect rubber bands just for fun: Joel Waul from Florida holds the Guinness World Record for the world's largest rubber band ball. His creation weighed in at 8,200 lbs, with a diameter of 6ft 7ins and a circumference of 26ft!

Here at Coruba, we don't make rubber bands, but we do stock a large variety of rubber products, including rubber matting, safety mats, gaskets and seals for a multitude of applications. Contact us on +44(0)1702 560194 or email info@coruba.co.uk for further information on our products and services.

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