While rubber is more widely-known for its industrial uses, history shows that toys also extensively utilized this material. Rubber toys have become playtime staples for centuries. Let’s take a look at the brief history of some of the most recognizable rubber toys and how they developed through the years.
The ingenious indigenous ball
One of the first uses for rubber was actually for sport. In 1525, a missionary came across an ancient Mesoamerican game that used a ball made with latex harvested from rubber trees. The problem was, the latex balls became brittle and sticky in hot temperature. Fast-forward to today: people use vulcanized rubber balls for sports like basketball and volleyball without worrying about them sticking to their hands or breaking apart at any point in the game.
Erase and rewind
It’s strictly not a toy, but rubber erasers have nevertheless captured the imagination of kids with their variety of shapes, colors, and even scents. A descendant of the famous Portuguese navigator Magellan is to be credited for its use. The rubber eraser eventually found its way to England, where it was more commonly referred to as India Rubber (which in turn became a generic name for rubber products).
A ballooning industry
The first rubber balloon was made in 1824 in London for a science experiment on the properties of hydrogen. This in turn gave way to the first toy balloons in the market, thanks to rubber manufacturer Thomas Hancock. The next step in improving these rubber balloons was to vulcanize them so they can be more durable and withstand temperature changes. These versions became the prototype of the modern-day latex balloons we know today, through the efforts of JG Ingram of London.
Rubber ducky, you’re the one
Ernie of Sesame Street’s ubiquitous bath accessory is just one of millions of squeak toys that became favorite playthings through the years. It’s gotten to the point that serious collectors are now searching far and wide for vintage rubber squeak toys to complete their menagerie.
These small flotation devices also serve an unexpected purpose: teaching us more about the ocean currents and how our seas are polluted. In 1992, a shipment of 28,000 rubber duckies from Hong Kong fell overboard on its way to the USA. Until today, these little yellow sailors are finding their way to shores as far as Alaska, Hawaii, South America, and Australia!
Baby pacifiers and teethers
Baby accessories like pacifiers and teethers exist to keep little ones happy and quiet. Today’s pacifiers are made of natural and synthetic rubber that is safe for children under three years old to put in their mouths. Thanks to the flexibility and durability of rubber, teethers and pacifiers now come in a myriad of shapes, sizes, and colors.