Origins of ordinary things: Rubber erasers

When children are just starting to learn how to write, they are bound to make a lot of mistakes. Mistakes made in pencil can be removed using a rubber eraser which saves paper.

According to ThoughtCo, an online knowledge resource, the reason why rubber erasers are able to remove pencil markings from paper is because molecules of erasers are stickier than paper.

Long-time predecessors to the current eraser, according to Wikipedia, an encyclopaedia, are tablets of wax, sandstone and crustless bread. 

According to Made How, a website on how products are made, the idea of rubber erases came to be when French scientist Charles de la Condamine visited America. There, he discovered a milky liquid known to the inhabitants of Central and South America as caoutchouc. It was found on tree barks and used to coat clothing, make footwear and bottles. Condamine sent samples of it to Europe.

One day in 1770, English engineer Edward Nairne accidentally picked up a rubber material made of solidified caoutchouc instead of breadcrumbs to erase something. He discovered the gum elastic’s ability to erase pencil lead. According to online knowledge resource History of Information, Nairne immediately started selling the eraser at a high price. During this time, English Scientist Joseph Priestly suggested that caoutchouc be named rubber.

Nairne’s rubber eraser though revolutionary, had one challenge; it was made out of natural substance and as such, it was perishable. The challenge was overcome 69 years later by American chemist and manufacturing engineer Charles Goodyear when he discovered a process called vulcanisation. Through vulcanisation, rubber could be cured to make it durable. Goodyear’s discovery made rubber erasers more available on the market. This is according to Wikipedia.

The next step forward regarding rubber erasers was achieved by American inventor Hymen Lipman when he received the first patent for attaching an eraser to a pencil on March 30, 1858. According to ThoughtCo, Lipman later lost the patent when the United States Supreme Court decided that the idea of combining a pencil with an eraser should not be patented because it was not an invention, rather, a combination of two products. This decision made mass production of pencils with rubber possible.

According to web-based History of Pencils, today’s erasers or rubbers as they are known in some countries are made of different material such as synthetic soy-based gum, vinyl, and plastic. These materials make different qualities of erasers, some so soft that they are able to completely rub all traces of pencil without causing damage to the paper.