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Rubber Goods Production Workers

History

Natural rubber is a pliable, stretchy material made from the milky juice of various tropical plants. Rubber was given its name in 1770 when a chemist observed it could be used to rub away, or erase, pencil marks. The earliest commercial use for rubber was in the 1840s when Charles Goodyear, an American, invented the vulcanization process. Vulcanization improves the properties of rubber, making it more elastic, stronger, and more durable. Beginning as early as 1845, long before bicycles and motor vehicles became common, vulcanized rubber was occasionally used in wheels. Rubber tire-making became an industry in 1888, when John Dunlop, a British surgeon, developed pneumatic tires for bicycles. Not long after that, rubber found an important new market in automobile tires. By the early 20th century, a useful kind of synthetic rubber was being produced to supplement natural rubber supplies for a growing list of purposes, although vehicles depended on tires made of natural rubber until World War II.

Before World War I, most rubber used in the United States was imported from South America. From then until World War II, most rubber came from Southeast Asia. When the supply was cut off by war, the industry entered a crash program and quickly developed new and better kinds of synthetic rubber. Since that time, both natural and synthetic rubber have continued to be important commodities. Today, both are found in countless products, from shoes to conveyor belts, baby bottles to mammoth storage containers, rubber balls to gaskets on spacecraft. Aproximately 70 percent of the rubber used in the United States is made into tires for automobiles, trucks, and other vehicles.

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