We use glue in our day-to-day life. From arts and crafts to installing drains. Modern society wouldn’t function without it. Let’s take a look at the history of glue (and adhesives) and when it has been invented.
The ancient history of glue: how invented and by who
It is hard to pin down who invented glue as it has been around for a long time. At the end of the day, it is quite simple to make and it might have been invented by coincidence by heating meat.
The first proof of the use of man-made glue is found in the paintings made by Neanderthal men in 200,000 BC. There are cave paintings found in Lascaux, France wherein the Neanderthals mixed glue with the coloring solvent they used to make it last longer.
They believed that glue will resist moisture and their paintings will last longer. This glue was extracted from birch bark tar and it held spear stone flakes tightly to wood. The cavemen used them in making weapons for hunting.
Another proof of the earliest days of usage of glue was found in South Africa which happened around 70,000 years BC. This compound glue was made from plant gum which was mixed with red ochre to give the desired color effects.
The ancient men later started using animal body parts like fish air bladders to make various types of gums. They mixed the crushed teeth and hooves with various plant-based materials to invent newer types of glues.
In Ancient Egypt, prehistoric men made glue by prolonged boiling of animal hides and other animal parts like hooves, teeth, and connective tissues. This happened some four thousand years ago, and the history of glue is almost as old as humankind. They even used glue to reinforce the furniture of the Pharaohs and other nobility. They used the papyrus scrolls as the base and glued them with various types of adhesives to make them stronger. Archaeologists have found those proofs even in the casket of Tutankhamun. There are hieroglyphs that were glued to the casket of Tutankhamun which makes us wonder how advanced this civilization was. This happened around 2500 years ago.
The ancient Egyptians also glued ivory decorative pieces to furniture, caskets, etc. during that period.
Why was glue used by ancient men and women?
The prehistoric men needed weapons for hunting and removing the hide to obtain the useful parts. They used glue in the axes and arrows which they constructed. Glue was used even in earlier religious ceremonies. Prehistoric men made decoration items and stuck them together with glue.
Archeologists have found clay pots from the burial sites after doing extensive excavation which dates back to 4000 BC. This glue was made from tree sap. Ancient Greek civilization was extremely developed and they had advanced tools for carpentry. They created multiple recipes for glue using egg whites, bones, milk, blood, cheese, grains, pulses, and vegetables, etc.
The Romans used beeswax and tar to create a different type of glue which was found in multiple excavation sites in and around Italy.
Greeks and Romans used glue in building construction materials too. They even used wall and floor mosaics and held them together using some kind of super glue. Archaeologists have found some remnants of usage of glue in China 900 – 1,000 AD.
Medieval monks used a glue made from egg whites. This was primarily used to bind books and other reading materials. They also used glue made from fish air bladders and mixed the heads, bokes, skin, and scales of fish to it to make it stronger.
How did the prehistoric men make glue?
The ancient men discovered that they can separate the collagen which is the protein in the animal tissues by boiling the hides, bones, skin, and sinew, etc. of animals. This collagen has adhesive properties and they were capable of sticking things together. Hence the ancient men started cleaning the body parts of animals that were rich in collagen and started making gelatinous glue out of them. They used to remove the calcium and other non-sticky parts and left only the collagen protein.
After boiling these animal parts and extracting the collagen materials, they dried that broth and ground it into a brown-colored powder. When they needed to use it, they boiled it with water to achieve the right consistency. The glue manufactured through this process could be used in holding the weapons and primitive furniture together. This was the kind of glue that was available to mankind till almost about the eighteenth century.
The invention of glue in the modern times
In Britain in 1750, the first glue was made from the body parts of fish. This glue was patented too. Natural rubber, starch, milk protein, animal bones, and other items were used to create various types of recipes for glue during the Renaissance period.
Across Europe, various furniture makers like Chippendale, Duncan Phyfe, Hepplewhite manufactured various types of furniture between the sixteenth and nineteenth century using their own recipes of glues.
Thomas Chippendale was a cabinet maker from London and he was the founder of the now-famous chain of furniture Chippendale furniture. His work traveled to other American colonies too during the British era.
Furniture makers like the Sheraton and the Adams brothers too used their own recipes for making glue and sticking various parts of the furniture during that period in Europe.
In the current times, the glues are manufactured from a polymer called polyvinyl acetate (PVA). This is a synthetic glue and a chemical reaction between acetylene and acetic acid creates vinyl acetate which is used as the base material for modern-day glue. Multiple additives are added to PVA glues so that their shelf life can be increased.
Synthetic glues can be classified into two groups- reactive glues and non-reactive glues. Reactive glues include epoxies, urethanes, and superglues (cyanoacrylates). Non-reactive adhesives can be solvent-based glues, which become hard when the solvent evaporates. They include rubber cement, white glue, contact adhesives, polyvinyl acetates (PVA), etc.
In today’s world, we use glue in the furniture industry and packaging industry a lot. We have invented cello tapes and many other types of synthetic tapes to stick items. Brands like Tite Bond manufacture various types of glues which can be used alone or after mixing two elements in the same quantity. Whatever it is, today we cannot think of a world without glues.
If you like to do DIY projects with glues and adhesives, you would know their importance. Even for the science projects of your children, you would have used glue on several occasions. When ceramic mugs break, that is what we reach out to first at home.