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Thomas Hancock: The Invention of the Masticator

English inventor Thomas Hancock was a 19th-century manufacturing engineer who was responsible for the earliest rubber recycling machine. The invention of the masticator revolutionised the rubber industry, leading to the invention of waterproof fabrics to make coats and other outerwear.

His method of processing rubber is still used today, two centuries after it was first invented. The company that he launched, Hancock, is still operational, manufacturing hand-made vulcanised rubber garments. The process has remained virtually unchanged since the early 19th century - a testament to the inventor's forward-thinking ideas.


© Drpixel / Adobe Stock


Early life and career

Born in May 1786, in Marlborough, Hancock was taught the skilled trade of cabinet-making by his father. As a young man, he moved to London with his brother, Walter, where they set up a business partnership in 1815, building horse-drawn coaches.

His interest in rubber began soon afterwards, springing from a desire to create waterproof fabrics to protect the coach passengers from inclement weather. He was experimenting with making rubber solutions by 1819 and the following year, he patented elastic fastenings for shoes, gloves, stockings and suspenders.

In creating these early elastic items, he found a lot of rubber was wasted after it had been cut off the main sheet. He then invented his famous machine to shred the waste rubber, so it could be re-used. He called the machine the "masticator", although he also dubbed it the "pickling" machine.

It was so revolutionary that he wished to keep it secret at first and did not patent it for some time, until he had perfected the process.


Hancock's factory

Hancock rented factory premises on Goswell Road, in London, where the machines he invented enabled him to work with both raw rubber and off-cuts that could be shredded and recycled. His equipment produced a warm, flexible mass of rubber that was shaped after mixing it with other materials.

His first masticator was operated by one man and held 85g of the rubber mix. The machine was made of an outer shell of wood, containing a hollow cylinder that had metal teeth. It was hand-cranked to complete the production process.

He produced his second masticator in 1821. This time, it required two workers, as it was larger and held 0.45kg of rubber. He experimented further with rubber solutions and perfected a way to make artificial leather by mixing a rubber solution with a variety of fibres.


Charles Macintosh

Hancock patented the process in 1825, using coal oil, solvents and turpentine in the mix. Historians believe this was probably influenced by inventor Charles Macintosh's experiments with rubber.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1766, Macintosh had invented a waterproof fabric by experimenting with a by-product of tar, called naphtha. He created the waterproof cloth by using natural rubber to cement the two pieces of material together.

He made a waterproof coat with the resulting fabric - which became known as a Mackintosh cloak - and patented his invention in 1823. The coat has always been spelt with the letter "k" included, even though this wasn't the spelling of the inventor's name!


Company merger

Later in 1823, Hancock and Macintosh began collaborating to manufacture an improved, double-textured, waterproof fabric. In 1830, the two entrepreneurs finally decided to merge their companies, with Macintosh closing down his Glasgow factory and moving to London to work from Hancock's premises.

They co-operated fully on improving the machinery and materials, building an automatic spreading machine, rather than having to coat the material using paintbrushes, but in 1834, the London factory was destroyed by a fire, so they moved to a new factory in Manchester and business continued to boom.

In 1837, Hancock finally patented his masticator and spreader. In 1841, he created a new masticator machine that could process up to 91kg of rubber at once. The company displayed its innovations at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London and at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1855. Hancock published his autobiography, The Origin and Progress of the India Rubber Industry in England, in 1857.


Hancock's legacy

Following his death in 1865, Hancock's life’s work lived on and he left the amazing legacy of his inventions, including vulcanised rubber. Over the years, the business that Hancock and Macintosh pioneered together has separated into two entities.

The Macintosh arm (still spelt "Mackintosh") has become synonymous with waterproof coats and uses the same production processes that were used in the 19th century. Hancock's now operates from a Victorian mill in Glasgow and still uses the same techniques for fabric production that the inventor first developed in 1819.

This month, the life of Thomas Hancock is being celebrated to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his work with natural rubber.

Here at Coruba, we offer a quality range of rubber products for industrial, commercial and residential use. Please contact us on 01702 560194 for further details.

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