The history of silicone elastomers

Although silicones have been around in their raw state since the beginning of time, it’s only since the 1940s that the US began to put serious efforts into researching the properties of silicone elastomers. Originally for use during the war, a paste was the first viable silicone product designed to protect electrical sparking equipment in warplanes.

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The building blocks of silicone

Silicon, known chemically as Si, can be distinguished from other organic polymers like latex and rubber because of its mineral element. The word silicone derives from the Latin word for rock ‘silex, silicis’ and naturally exists in a combined form as either silicates or silicon dioxide SiO2 which we also know as silica or quartz. Silicon makes up over a quarter of the earth’s crust, making it the chemical element most abundant behind oxygen.

Stone Age man first discovered the properties of silica for making tools, while the Romans discovered the art of creating glass from sand.

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Sticky messes

By 1823 Jöns Jackob Berzelius, a Swedish chemist had managed to isolate silicone developing techniques which remain in use today when silicones are produced. Henry Sainte-Claire Deville then managed to obtain crystalline silicon in the 1850s.

However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that J F Hyde began to investigate producing commercial silicones and it was Frederich Stanley Kipping the English chemist who named them a decade later. Kipping declared that they were ‘sticky messes’ of no practical use.

Industrial production processes

Scientists at the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research drove forward research into silicone synthesis so the material could be produced and used on an industrial scale. The first commercially successful silicone based product was developed in the 1940s by Dr J Franklin Hyde who created a silicone resin for impregnating glass cloth used in electrical insulation. It was these advances that would lead to the kinds of silicones routinely used by silicone hose manufacturer and available from companies like

Silly putty and moon boots

Since the 1940s silicone elastomers have appeared as toys – everybody’s favourite Silly Putty – and for coating the soles of Neil Armstrong’s boots that made the first ever footprint on the moon. In 1970, the Post-It was created with a silicone based tape. Silicones have their place in microprocessing technology to prevent overheating and are now everywhere: in contact lenses, shampoos and smartphone covers!

The author is an expert on occupational training and a prolific writer who writes extensively on Business, technology, and education. He can be contacted for professional advice in matters related with occupation and training on his blog Communal Business and Your Business Magazine.