Childhood memories – airplanes that you would wind up and then let go and watch it fly; the sling shot made out of rubber bands or the car that ran on rubber band power.
Today you find rubber bands wrapped around your vegetables, around stacks of paper, or anything that you want to hold together as a group. This handy little item is used for so many different things – the only limit for its use is the limit of your imagination!
The rubber industry began with Thomas Hancock. In 1820 he patented India-rubber springs for various types of clothing. He also invented the rubber masticator – a machine with revolving teeth that tore up rubber scraps. These shredded bits adhered into a solid mass that could then be pressed into blocks or rolled into sheets. The masticator made rubber manufacture commercially practical.
Things made from rubber at that time did not last. They had a tendency to melt in warmer weather. A young man with a boyhood fascination with rubber took up the challenge to make rubber usable. In 1839 Charles Goodyear accidentally discovered the vulcanization process (heating a rubber and sulphur mixture) that made the rubber tough but flexible. This process was patented in 1844. The rubber band was first patented by Stephen Perry on this day, March 17, 1845 in London.
Standards for the rubber band were established in the United States in 1925 by the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Standards. These standards detailed requirements for the number of bands per pound depending on the length of the band and the tensile strength and elongation of the bands.
The rubber band was once the prominent product of the rubber factory, today it is but one product among many. Manufacturers of the rubber band now produce many other products like jar rings, pencil tips, erasers and finger cots (the rubber finger tips that help to flip through paper quickly). The number of rubber bands sold in a year is not available at the item level today, but in 1901 it was estimated that the sales of rubber bands amounted to 400,000 gross or 57,000,000 single bands.
Interested in learning more about the rubber band or what you can do with them? The unofficial rubber band website has some examples of items made with rubber bands as well as a recipe for making your own. Have some dandelions in your backyard? The book, The big stretch: the complete book of the amazing rubber band, explains how to make a rubber band using dandelion or milkweed plants.
A search of the newspapers found in Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers provides some interesting articles. The Library also has the journal Rubber Age from 1920 to 1976. The book, India rubber: its manufacture and use (1891), is available in the Library of Congress collection of books found within the Internet Archive. To discover other resources available here at the Library, try a subject search in our catalog for rubber bands or rubber industry.
Special thanks to my colleague, Ellen Terrell, for her assistance with this post.
 “Thomas Hancock.” World of Invention. Online. Thomson Gale, 2006. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC Document Number: K1647000171 (Note: this is a subscription database and is available on-site at the Library of Congress or possibly at your local public library.)
 “Charles Goodyear.” World of Invention. Online. Thomson Gale, 2006.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC Document Number: K1647000157 (Note: this is a subscription database and is available on-site at the Library of Congress or possibly at your local public library.)
 Chronicling America, Hopkinsville Kentuckian, May 07, 1901