Origins of ordinary things: Rubber bands

The simple rubber (or elastic) band is one of those nifty little items that costs next to nothing and yet has so many uses most commonly, holding multiple objects together such as bank notes and pens and pencils.

Throughout history two types of rubber have been used to manufacture rubber bands – natural rubber or latex from rubber trees, and synthetic rubber, a by-product of crude oil refinement. Modern day rubber bands are basically created by extruding rubber into long tubes of varying colour, thickness and diameter. These elastic tubes are sliced into thin circles, creating rubber bands as we know them.

According to Science lens, the elastic rubber band, made from vulcanised rubber, was patented in March 17 1845, by English inventor Stephen Perry of the rubber manufacturing company Messers Perry and Co, Rubber Co Manuf London. Around the same time, Jaroslav Kurash also independently came up with his version of the rubber band. Perry invented the rubber band to hold papers or envelopes together.

However, while this counts as the ‘invention of the modern rubber band’, it is by no means the first occurrence in history of these super-useful little binding tools. Many years before the Mayans had already used the sap from rubber trees to create elastic strands to bind things together. This is according to gizmodo.com.

While the rubber band was invented and patented in the 19th century, at this point it was mostly used in factories and warehouses, rather than in the common household. This changed thanks to William Spencer of Alliance, Ohio. According the Cincinnati Examiner, in 1923, Spencer noticed the pages of the Akron Beacon Journal, his local newspaper, were constantly being blown across his and his neighbors’ lawns. So, he came up with a solution for this.

As an employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad, he knew where to acquire spare rubber pieces and discarded inner tubes – The Goodyear Rubber Company also located in Akron. He cut these pieces into circular strips and began to wrap the newspapers with these bands. They worked so well that the Akron Beacon Journal bought Spencer’s rubbers bands to do the deed themselves. He then proceeded to sell his rubber bands to office supply, paper goods, and twine stores across the region, all the while continuing to work at Pennsylvania Railroad (for more than a decade more) while he built his business up.

Spencer also opened the first rubber band factory in Alliance. In 1957, he designed and patented the Alliance rubber band, which ultimately set the world rubber band standard. Today, Alliance Rubber is the number one rubber band manufacturer in the world, churning out more than 14 million pounds of rubber bands per year.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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