The History of Natural Latex Bedding
South – American natives called it, cahuchu, or weeping wood. We call it natural latex. In the early 1700s the South American natives were observed by French explorers using latex to create crude rubber balls, rubber bottles and shoes. The French explorers recognized its unique potential and brought it home to France in to make its industrial debut in 1735. Latex in its crude rubber form has taken some interesting twists, tweaks and turns along its way through history.
In 1770, English chemist, Joseph Priestly, notices that marks from his pencil lead are easily rubbed-out or erased; “rubber” becomes the preferred name for this miracle substance. By the early 1800s, rubber has been mixed with turpentine to make waterproof cloth, and in turn, rubber takes shape into a myriad of diverse and useful things: Mackintosh rain coats and rubber bands, to mention a few. But, rubber at this stage still has a big problem. Extreme temperatures cause it to be unstable: gummy and sticky in heat, hard and brittle in cold. Charles Goodyear comes into the picture around 1839 and accidentally discovers the vulcanization of rubber by mixing rubber and sulfur on the stove—the rubber becomes cured, stable, and ready for use in even more products. During this time, the British Empire successfully develops rubber tree plantations; by 1914, the yearly production of plantation rubber exceeds that of wild rubber forest production thus becoming a sustainable product.
A few more interesting things happen to shape the future and direction of latex foam products. In 1942, Japan captures all of the Far East rubber plantations and cuts off roughly 90% of the United States’ rubber supply. Not to be dissuaded, the US answers back with a rapid development of its own synthetic rubber industry. Today, the world uses more synthetic rubber than natural rubber. Many rubber product industries choose to use a blend of both natural and synthetic rubber.
By the 1950s, two main processes are used in the production of foam rubber. The Dunlop process, developed in 1929, uses a robotic arm method to fill molds that are then closed and sent through a vulcanization oven with the absence of a vacuum allowing particles and sediment to fall to the bottom of the mold. The Talalay process, developed in the early 1950s, injects latex into an aluminum pin core mold where it is sealed and then vacuumed to extract air. The Talalay process uses a freezing technique that prevents particles from settling and also ensures a consistent cell structure. It is then heated to cure the core and baked into its final shape. Both the Dunlop and Talalay processes are used throughout the world today, but the Talalay method is often considered to be the more superior in cell structure and more resilient in softer densities.
In the 60s and 70s and 80s, foam rubber mattresses continue to increase in popularity among Americans, and the latex foam rubber mattress industry in America continues to expand to mirror the Europeans’ love affair with the foam mattress. (80% of Europe’s high-end mattress market is latex foam mattresses!)
Currently the latex foam mattress industry in America enjoys a healthy share of the mattress market. Latex is a sustainable product with hypoallergenic and anti-microbial properties that have a natural ability to repel dust mites and to prevent the growth of mold and fungus. Today, with an ever-emerging consciousness to green living, natural latex foam mattresses offer a product with superior qualities for both peace-of-mind and a fantastic night’s sleep.