These slip-ons recently accompanied me on my first journey to our nation's capital, Washington D.C. where they put on the miles as I journeyed (as I believe all should) to see the monuments. As I went the distance around the city I was reminded of the progress we've somehow managed to create in every aspect of our lives. With that, let's take a stroll down the history of how rubber transforms from goopy tree product to slip-on shoe that becomes a part of you throughout the years.
A full description of both natural and synthetic rubber can be found conveniently at this Wikipedia site. But for all with just the passing intrigue. These are the highlights:
Rubber, known more organically as latex was first found naturally in plants. Much like how syrup comes naturally from trees, a simple tap jammed into the trunk will strike a vein and drain the plant's harvest. This latex though, is pretty weak and flimsy with little structural integrity.
|A tree being tapped for its latex|
Vulcanization: One of the cooler scientific process names out there.
Through the use of chemistry, latex rubber from plants is combined with various compounds such as sulfur. These additives bind chemically with the rubber molecules to make it stronger. This sort of process is similar to how engineers add carbon atoms and other elements into iron to produce a much stronger form of metal, steel.
Today, much of the rubber we encounter is artificially made in some form or another from petroleum. This process can be more useful as it excludes some of the impurities found naturally in tree latex.
Not surprisingly, artificial rubber comes in some way from fossil fuels . For good measure, here's a page from the 2009 How the Energy Industry Works-an Insider's Guide
|A quick blurb about what 1 barrel of crude gets us|
I'm not certain whether my enduring duo is made from vulcanized latex or synthetic rubber. I would guess it is synthetic since they've endured so much. I'm appreciative though that someone figured this stuff out. Used daily, thought of rarely.
Useful as they may be, shoes aren't all good