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History of Adhesives

In simple terms, an adhesive is a “substance used for sticking objects or materials together” []. Or, in even simpler terms, a “glue” [].

Think Glue

A simple 4 letter word, and yet the foundation of a multi-billion dollar global industry, encompassing in excess of 750 companies all competing for a share of the global market. Recent research also indicates that approximately 50 of those 750 companies account for 50% of sales within the adhesive industry.

There is evidence of an adhesive being used dating as far back as 4,000 B.C. In studies of prehistoric tribe burial sites sticky resins from tree sap were found to have been used to repair pottery vessels. Statues from Babylonian temples have also revealed the use of a tar-like glue to stick ivory eyeballs into eye sockets. Whilst this was a primitive form of glue, it stuck for the best part of 6,000 years!

There is further evidence of the historical use of glue dating back to 1,500 to 1,000 B.C., where paintings and murals have shown it being used for wood gluing operations. Indeed, glue was used in the construction of a casket removed from the tomb of King Tut! Given this evidence, it will come as no surprise that the museums across the world house many artefacts with evidence of the early use of bonding or laminating with animal glue, in particular those artefacts from the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. Around 200 B.C. simple procedures for both the production and use of animal glue were referenced in literature.

The history of adhesives continues between 1 – 500 A.D. when the Romans and Greeks used glue to bond thin layers of wood, and refined the production of animal and fish glues, as well as developing other types of adhesives using natural ingredients such as egg whites, blood, bones, hide, milk, cheese, vegetables, grains, etc.. The Romans also continued the use of tar, as found in the Babylonian temples, in addition to beeswax, to bond the planks of wood in boats and ships to make them watertight.

The use of adhesives came to the fore again in around 1,500 – 1,700 A.D. when they were used in the production of furniture, most notably Chippendale.

Whilst many historical uses of adhesives have been lost in history, in around 1,700 A.D. the use of glues was that prevalent those changes were required and were fast in coming. In Holland the first commercial glue factory making animal glue from hides was established, leading in 1750 to the first glue patent for fish glue issued in Britain. This led to many patents in quick succession for adhesives using natural rubber, animal bones, fish, starch and milk protein, and by 1900 there were quite a few factories in the US producing glue from these raw ingredients.

The Industrial Revolution brought about a rapid increase in technical advancements resulting in the use of new materials in the production of glue, and a natural progression from there led to the creation of the first plastic polymer from cellulose nitrate. This was initially used in the production of billiard balls, which prior to this had been made from ivory. In 1910 the period of plastics began with the production of Bakelite phenolic, which is a thermoset plastic. From this point onwards the use of phenolic resins in the production of adhesives rapidly spread, with many new plastics and rubbers synthetically made in the years between 1920 to 1940, many of which were developed during World War II.

Whilst the history of adhesives has been tracked right back to 4,000 B.C., it is in the last 100 years that the technological advancements in the production of adhesives have taken place. With the development of plastics and elastomers the innovations and progressions in adhesives really flourished, with qualities such as flexibility, toughness, curing or setting time, temperature and chemical resistance all being made available.

Most people are unaware of the extent to which adhesives play a vital role in our everyday lives. Whilst we may not realise it, adhesives are never far away from us, and many items we take for granted actually owe their existence to adhesives!

Thermoplastic glue (Hot Melt Adhesives / glue sticks) may have been invented around 1940 by Procter & Gamble as a solution to water-based adhesives commonly used in packaging at that time failing in high humid climates, causing packages to fail and pop open. The arrival of instant-bonding hot melt adhesives / glue sticks was to change industry forever, hot melt adhesives / glue sticks are 100% solid, non-toxic adhesives containing no solvents or water, and provide instant, permanent bonding on a vast range of materials without the use of harmful solvents.

Rapid development in glue gun and glue stick technology driven by market demands as lead to today’s range of glue guns and glue sticks. With over 40 variants of glue guns and more than 50 different formulation of glue sticks, we are proud to say “Challenge us, we can bond anything”.

A simple 4 letter word (Glue), but with an extensive history and far reaching implications on our everyday lives.

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