Inventions of Necessity: Synthetic Rubber

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It was the Greek philosopher, Plato, who said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Social and economic forces strongly influence which technologies will be developed and used. Throughout the history of the world, manufacturing processes have been changed by the discovery of new and improved tools and techniques. History has shown that scientists, government, academia, and industry have collaborated to change the course of technology and influence commerce.

Although synthetic rubber did not exceed the production of natural rubber until the events of WW II, its discovery dates back to the 1600s. In this lesson, we will look at the history of the rubber industry to understand how it has been one of the most influential products of all time.


What is rubber?
Natural rubber is an elastic hydrocarbon polymer called polyisoprene and is found in the sap (latex) of certain trees. Synthetic rubber is made from polymers that are engineered synthetically by a process called polymerization, which is a chemical reaction produced when two or more molecules combine to form larger molecules with repeated structural units.

For an explanation of the chemical properties of natural rubber, read Meet Polyisoprene.

Then read about some of the technologies invented to aid in expanding the uses of natural rubber. Go to Natural Rubber—History and Developments in the Natural Rubber Industry. Be prepared to discuss in class how these technologies have affected the growth of the natural rubber industry.

Next you should read What is Synthetic Rubber?As you are reading, think about the answers to these questions:

  • Name ten industries that use synthetic rubber.
  • The article states that rubber in the modern world is omnipotent. What do you think the author meant by that statement?
  • What other inventions can you think of that were invented out of necessity?
  • What relation to natural or synthetic rubber do some of these other inventions have?

Knowledge Check

Write a brief summary of how natural rubber grew into an industry that sparked inventions of products and technologies that led to the manufacture of synthetic rubber.

Now, mind map the uses of rubber from 1525 to present day. You can use the Many Uses of Rubber student sheet to do this. Expand the map by adding as many products as you can think of that have rubber in them or derivatives of rubber in their construction. You can use the Brief History & Introduction of Rubber resource used earlier in the lesson to help with this assignment.Check with your teacher before continuing.Now, go to and read a Brief History & Introduction of Rubber. Be prepared to discuss in class these questions:

  • What factors led to the production of synthetic rubber?
  • How did the rubber market shift from South America to Asia?
  • How did the advent of WW II change the course of rubber production?

This esheet is a part of the Inventions of Necessity: Synthetic Rubber lesson.

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