*Rubber* is made from the milky sap of various tropical plants including the _Hevea caoutchouc_. Charles-Marie de La Condamine (1701-1774), a French soldier and explorer, went to South America in the 1730s and noted local rubber production techniques, calling the substance _caoutchouc_ after the local term for ‘weeping wood’. Caoutchouc was named ‘rubber’ in the 1770s after English scientist Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) noticed that the substance could be used to erase pencil marks from paper. American inventor Charles Goodyear (1800-1860) discovered _vulcanization_ (a method of treating rubber to make it strong and elastic) in 1839 when he accidentally dropped a mixture of rubber and sulphur on a hot stove.

New Internationalist issue 345 magazine cover This article is from the May 2002 issue of New Internationalist.
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