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It’s safe to say that history wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for rubber.
The substance is responsible for compounds and products that have fueled the advancement of global economies, paved the way for new and exciting technologies, and modernized industries the world over.
Rubber is weird, wild, and a little whacky when you boil it down to its basic components and attributes. Some rubber bounces better than others while some can withstand more heat than others. Advanced compounding techniques make modern rubber more durable, and material scientists continue to push the limits of what it can do.
We’ve gotten some useful products from smart individuals throughout history, but we’ve also seen some outlandish inventions come and go.
Kick off your (rubber-soled) shoes, relax in your favorite (rubber-cushioned) chair, and read about some of the whacky ways people have used rubber throughout history.
The Motorized Monowheel
Today, rubber makes the world go round. Quite literally. From the bearings under the hood of your car to the tires that allow it to roll, rubber is everywhere on the road these days. That’s due, in part, to the explosion of synthetic rubber production and the rubber-tire boom that happened around the time of World War II.
Slightly before that boom, the motorized monowheel was introduced as an alternative way to get around. It’s a big, bulky, otherworldly-looking machine that seats a rider inside a large, thin wheel (almost like a motorcycle but with a single wheel that rotates above and below the rider. Antique examples like the 1910 Edison-Puton Monowheel still turn heads when they’re displayed, but those early monowheels didn’t have the comfort, functionality, or durability that rubber could provide, so the early 1900’s monowheel fad came and went.
Or so it would seem. Thrill seekers and engineers have revived the idea of the weird, slightly unwieldy monowheel design. This time around, rubber makes all the difference, and modern innovators are building monowheels that are faster, freakier, and more fun than their historical predecessors.
They’re simple, have been around forever, and you can likely find one in no time if you go looking, which is what makes rubber bands one of the most recognizable rubber products. That holds true now and also when they were first invented way back in the 1840s.
What makes rubber bands noteworthy when it comes to weird and whacky? Legend has it that they were first produced as a way to stop newspapers from blowing in the wind. Today, rubber bands are used, improved, and incorporated into all kinds of practical products.
Early rubber bands paved the way for larger, more durable bands that in turn paved the way for modern rubber belts used in commercial vehicles and manufacturing machinery.
They’re not crazy. They’re not fancy. But the world wouldn’t be the same without rubber bands.
While the concept is one we’ve seen revisited throughout history, the idea of using recycled goods to build sustainable homes is cropping up today in response to housing, climate, and resource issues. Earthships are modern dwellings made out of recycled materials, and many of these off-grid homes use recycled rubber in one form or another.
These kinds of houses, built to withstand the elements and not rely heavily on local electrical grids, are anything but ramshackle shanties. Many are built to last with natural insulation and even solar panels.
Whether it was an urban legend as you were growing up or was common knowledge that no one ever actually bothered to test, the idea that chewing gum is made of rubber is more fact than you might imagine.
Ancient peoples chewed various leaves, nuts, roots, and barks to produce what we might consider early chewing gums. One of these, Chicle (derived from a tropical tree), was brought to America from Mexico in the 1860s in hopes that it might actually be a rubber alternative. It wasn’t, and instead, sweet tooth scientists thought it might make a chewable gum. They flavored it with licorice and sold it as candy.
Today, most chewing gums are still rubber-based, but they’re more complex. Many modern chewing gums are created using synthetic butyl rubber mixed with food-grade plasticizers and other materials to make it chewable, tasty, and attractive.
As a result of chewing gum’s less-than-natural makeup, most gums will never decompose and won’t start to degrade for about fifteen years after you’re finished chewing.
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Weird Rubber Products Abound, Today and Yesterday
This list could go on and on simply because rubber has been around for a long time, and people get wild when miracle materials can be molded and made into whatever their minds can imagine.
Other weird rubber products you might never have heard of include:
- A rubber finger to massage your gums
- Bicycles for your feet/motorized roller skates
- Full-face swim masks
- Life vests made from old tires
- Rubber-encased railroad ties
- Latex rubber mattresses
- And so much more
Remember a weird rubber contraption from your childhood? Can’t believe how much rubber is all around you today? Chances are someone, somewhere is thinking up ways to make even weirder, wilder rubber products that’ll change the way we live in the future.
At least, that’s what we’re doing at AirBoss!