Present in thousands of everyday products, rubber is ubiquitous in the modern world. While it has been used in its natural form for thousands of years, it was only after the development of vulcanisation by American inventor Charles Goodyear – showcased with grandeur at World Expo 1851 London – that rubber became the widespread material it is today.

Charles Goodyear invented and patented the vulcanisation process, which involves the treatment of natural rubber with sulphur or other additives in order to obtain a hard and resistant material, suitable for a range of uses. Realising its potential, Goodyear opted to showcase the versatility of vulcanised rubber in a major display at Expo 1851, dubbed the ‘Vulcanite Court’. Spanning three different rooms and larger in size than the whole American section, Goodyear’s exhibit featured rubber walls and ceilings, as well as a wide range of hard and flexible rubber products including combs, musical instruments, gloves, balloons and rafts.

The introduction of vulcanised rubber simplified the production of many goods and allowed the development of new ones, including pneumatic tyres, essential for modern vehicles. Buoyed by his success at Expo 1851, Charles Goodyear mounted an exhibit at the next World Expo, in 1855 in Paris, with the technology making such an impression that the French Government awarded him with the Légion d’Honneur.

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