The Olmecs, an ancient Mexican civilisation, are the earliest known people to have used rubber. It’s thought they started using liquid latex mixed with sap to make rubber balls as early as 1500BC.They used their creations to play a ballgame in specially built sporting arenas. Winning was everything – players on the losing team could be sacrificed to the gods!
Rubber hoses were invented in the early 19th century, and were originally made by weaving together a mixture of molasses, glue and rubber in a solid cylindrical shape.
The cylinder was treated with chemicals to bind the rubber to the mixture, then the rubber core was boiled away to leave a hollow tube.
Later that century people began to make hoses out of cotton yarn. The material was coated with rubber on one side, then the edges were riveted together.
The American entrepreneur Charles Goodyear, who went on to manufacture rubber tyres worldwide, perfected a technique in 1839 for toughening rubber.The process, called vulcanisation, involves mixing liquid rubber with sulphur and heating the mixture to a high temperature (up to 200°C). The resulting rubber is not only stronger and harder, but also much more elastic and resistant to chemicals.
Rubber hose reinforced with cotton ply was developed by another American, B. F. Goodrich, in 1871.
In the last century the method developed further. Fabric was coated with a rubber mixture and cut into strips.A flat piece of rubber was attached at one side to form the outer cover, then the whole thing was wound around a rubber tube mounted on a rod of whatever diameter was required.
Modern hoses are made mainly out of synthetic compounds of rubber, plastic and stainless steel. These are much lighter, yet stronger and more leak resistant, than in the past.