“What Are Rubber Duckies Made Of?”
That’s a great question! Let’s start at the beginning: Rubber.
What Are Rubber Duckies Made Of?: The Discovery of Rubber
The story of rubber duckies waddles, naturally, hand-in-hand with that of rubber, from the discovery of rubber itself, to the invention of processes that improved its performance, and thus toys.
It was during Christopher Columbus’s second voyage in 1496 that the Spanish explorers witnessed a bouncing rubber ball and thus “discovered” rubber. Until this time balls had been made of packed leather. This bouncibility was surely a welcome novelty, not mention a lessening of the ouch factor when one was struck with it!
Early on rubber was cut into pieces for use as elastic bands and as Joseph Priestley discovered in 1770, its use as an erasure: therefore the name “rubber.” For all its unique characteristics, in its raw state, rubber’s usefulness was limited.
The early 1880’s brought research into making rubber more useful. The first rubber factory in the world was established near Paris in 1803; the first in England by Thomas Hancock in 1820. Machines were developed to change its nature mechanically. But still, the finished products were susceptible to high and low temperatures, causing them to be sticky or rigid, and thereby limiting their uses. It wasn’t until 1839 that the use of rubber became practical in the industrialized world.
What Are Rubber Duckies Made Of?: Early Rubber Ducks
While Charles Goodyear had been experimenting with methods to change the nature of rubber, it was an accident that revealed the ultimate solution. He happened to drop rubber and sulfur on a hot stove. The resulting charring made the rubber leather-like yet it remained plastic and elastic. He had discovered vulcanization. This mistake flung the door open to a myriad of products and in fact an entire industry.
The earliest rubber ducks and rubber toys predate vulcanization. These are solid, hard, and heavy with no chance of floating and no possibility of a squeaker. The example in the author’s collection is black. Not exactly what we envision as a cheerful bath time playmate!
Vulcanization and new molding processes made possible the hollow rubber duck we know and love. Deitrich Rempel, a Russian immigrant turned toy mogul, developed a hollow casting process called roto-casting which he applied to toys. Rempel Manufacturing was the last company in the United States to make real rubber toys, ceasing to do so in the mid 1960’s.
What Are Rubber Duckies Made Of? Rubber Duckies Now
Today true rubber has become prohibitively expensive, so nearly all “rubber” products are made of synthetic rubber. As for our little bath tub buddies, safe, non-toxic vinyl is the material of choice for the vast majority of rubber duckies made today.
However, at least one toy maker still makes latex rubber duckies. Lanco’s line of rubber ducks are made from natural latex and hand painted with child-safe natural dye paints.