The rubber hydrocarbon is synthesized by a wide range of plants, most of which are found in wet tropical areas. Three important botanical families cultivated for the product are the Apocynaceae, Artocarpaceae and Euphor-biaceae. The material was first introduced to Europe in 1735 but was not much exploited until the nineteenth century. The natural ther-moplasticity of rubber is overcome by a process called vulcanization. Vulcanization, the modification of rubber latex by sulphur and heat, is used to improve the resilience and strength of rubber and to produce a hard rubber product by producing sulphide links between rubber molecules (see Blank, 1989). The process was discovered in 1839 by Goodyear and patented in 1843 by Hancock and in 1844 by Goodyear. In 1929 the Dunlop Rubber Co. patented latex foam - 'sponge rubber'. Shortages caused by supply difficulties during the Second World War increased research, leading to synthetic latex developed by Pirelli and others. The properties of rubber are reviewed by Roff and Scott (1971).
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