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Natural Rubber

Natural Rubber

NR Natural rubberNatural rubber, also called India rubber or caoutchouc, as initially produced, consists of polymers of the organic compound isoprene, with minor impurities of other organic compounds, plus water. Malaysia and Indonesia are two of the leading rubber producers. Forms of polyisoprene that are used as natural rubbers are classified as elast


Currently, rubber is harvested mainly in the form of the latex from the rubber tree or others. The latex is a sticky, milky colloid drawn off by making incisions in the bark and collecting the fluid in vessels in a process called “tapping”. The latex then is refined into rubber ready for commercial processing. In major areas, latex is allowed to coagulate in the collection cup. The coagulated lumps are collected and processed into dry forms for marketing.

Natural rubber is used extensively in many applications and products, either alone or in combination with other materials. In most of its useful forms, it has a large stretch ratio and high resilience, and is extremely waterproof.

History of natural rubber:

The first use of rubber was by the indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica. The earliest archeological evidence of the use of natural latex from the Hevea tree comes from the Olmec culture, in which rubber was first used for making balls for the Mesoamerican ballgame. Rubber was later used by the Maya and Aztec cultures – in addition to making balls Aztecs used rubber for other purposes such as making containers and to make textiles waterproof by impregnating them with the latex sap.

The Pará rubber tree is indigenous to South America. Charles Marie de La Condamine is credited with introducing samples of rubber to the Académie Royale des Sciences of France in 1736. In 1751, he presented a paper by François Fresneau to the Académie (published in 1755) that described many of rubber’s properties. This has been referred to as the first scientific paper on rubber. In England, Joseph Priestley, in 1770, observed that a piece of the material was extremely good for rubbing off pencil marks on paper, hence the name “rubber”. It slowly made its way around England. In 1764 François Fresnau discovered that turpentine was a rubber solvent. Giovanni Fabbroni is credited with the discovery of naphtha as a rubber solvent in 1779.

South America remained the main source of the limited amounts of latex rubber used during much of the 19th century. The trade was heavily protected and exporting seeds from Brazil was a capital offense, although no law prohibited it. Nevertheless, in 1876, Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 Pará rubber tree seeds from Brazil and delivered them to Kew Gardens, England. Only 2,400 of these germinated. Seedlings were then sent to India, British Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Singapore, and British Malaya. Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia) was later to become the biggest producer of rubber. In the early 1900s, the Congo Free State in Africa was also a significant source of natural rubber latex, mostly gathered by forced labor. King Leopold II’s colonial state brutally enforced production quotas.

Tactics to enforce the rubber quotas included removing the hands of victims to prove they had been killed. Soldiers often came back from raids with baskets full of chopped-off hands. Villages that resisted were razed to encourage better compliance locally.See Atrocities in the Congo Free State for more information on the rubber trade in the Congo Free State in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Liberia and Nigeria started production.

In India, commercial cultivation was introduced by British planters, although the experimental efforts to grow rubber on a commercial scale were initiated as early as 1873 at the CalcuttaBotanical Gardens. The first commercial Hevea plantations were established at Thattekadu in Kerala in 1902. In later years the plantation expanded to Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India. India today is the world’s 3rd largest producer and 4th largest consumer.

In Singapore and Malaya, commercial production was heavily promoted by Sir Henry Nicholas Ridley, who served as the first Scientific Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1888 to 1911. He distributed rubber seeds to many planters and developed the first technique for tapping trees for latex without causing serious harm to the tree. Because of his fervent promotion of this crop, he is popularly remembered by the nickname “Mad Ridley”.

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