Those of us who work closely to the modern rubber industry and all its technological brilliance may forget that rubber has a dark and violent history. It has been told in various forms in the past, and has come up again as the subject of a BBC story and podcast.
In the piece—part of the BBC's "50 Things That Made the Modern Economy" series—writer Tim Harford tells of the innovation that made rubber's popularity soar and, at the same time, brought bloodshed to the missionary outpost in Baringa, known then as the Congo Free State.
In his story, Harford delves into the rise of the rubber industry. He talks of Charles Goodyear and the discovery of vulcanization, which made rubber a much more usable material not subject to melting when the weather got hot (to put it in the most simple terms). Demand for rubber boomed as it became used in such goods as hoses, belts and gaskets.
Then John Dunlop reinvented the pneumatic tire while working with his son's tricycle, boosting the rubber business even higher.
With the need for rubber skyrocketing, the powerful nations of Europe went to clearing areas of Asia to plant rubber trees. But, while waiting for these trees to mature and produce rubber, it was found that vines in the Congo's rainforest could supply rubber right away.