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Caoutchoue. A vegetable substance obtained from incisions made in several plants, affording a milky juice, as the Urceola elastica, a tree of tropical Asia, the Ficus elastica, a species of fig in Nepal, and especially the Siphonia elastica, a euphorbiaceous plant of South America. It is white at first, and assumes the dark shade usually possessed on exposure to smoke. It is impermeable to water, tenacious, elastic, unalterable by exposure to air, fusible at 150 degrees, soluble in ether and the essential oils. It is also called India rubber (having been first used to erase pencil marks) and gum elastic. Vulcanized caoutchoue, caoutchoue compounded with a small proportion of sulphur, by which it is rendered hard and elastic like horn; – so called because subjected to a high degree of heat during the process of manufacture. It is used for a great variety of purposes in the arts. — Webster, 1882

A large lot of rubber shoes at the City Boot and Shoe Store, to be sold cheaper than at any other house in Kansas. – Independence, Kansas, Pioneer, January 1, 1870.

A codfish breakfast and an India rubber overcoat will keep a man dry all day. – South Kansas Tribune, Independence, August 9, 1871.

If you see a man with an India-rubber coat on, India-rubber shoes, an India-rubber cap, and in his pocket an India-rubber purse, with not a cent in it, that is Goodyear. If you see a man with an India-rubber coat on, and in his pockets nine sweet potatoes, that is Edwards.

Rubber comes from the sap of certain tropical trees and was collected by slashing the bark of rubber trees and collecting the sap in a container attached to the trunk. The rubber collected was white, but darkened when exposed to smoke. The rubber was melted and molded into useable items. Early items made of natural rubber would deteriorate over time. After a year or two, natural rubber became sticky, then turned into liquid and stinks! During the Little House years, vulcanized rubber – natural rubber that had been combined with a small amount of sulfur to make it both hard and elastic – was used to coat fabric, which was then fashioned into many useful items, including coats. The process of vulcanization was invented by Charles Goodyear and patented in 1844. Some rubberized goods such as coats and blankets were supplied to soldiers during the Civil War, and after the war, manufacturers marketed their wares to the public.

Car tires are made of vulcanized rubber to which carbon black has been added for strength. About the time the Wilders moved to Missouri, the Kingsbury County Independent (published in De Smet, South Dakota), marveled at the idea of using tires for advertising, and not just the manufacturer’s name we see in raised letters on car tires today. The idea was to use the front wheel of a tricycle as a rolling rubber stamp. Raised letters on the tire spelled out a message and ink was applied to the letters at each revolution of the tire from a roller positioned behind the seat. As the rider pedaled along the sidewalk, advertisements were left behind for pedestrians to read as they walked from store to store. Imagine if you wll, wrote the Independent: “Buy your farm implements of E.H. Couse & Co.” Did it happen in De Smet? No. Was Mr. Couse behind the newspaper blurb? Probably.

The tintype photo shows a little girl wearing a rubber headband with a ribbon weaved through the cutouts, allowing the color of the ribbon to show through the spaces. The ribbon could be changed to match the wearer’s outfit. Mary’s and Laura’s headbands in Little House on the Prairie were described as if the ribbon had been glued to the underside of the band. The advertisement below for rubber goods is from a December 1870 newspaper.


rubber (LHP 21)
     coat (LHP 19)
     comb (LHP 21)
     laprobe (PG)
     storm apron / curtains for buggy (THGY 29), see storm apron