Thomas Hancock founded the rubber industry in Great Britain. He was born at Marlborough in Wiltshire, the third of twelve children of a lumber merchant and a cabinet-maker. Around 1815 Hancock went into the stagecoach business with one of his brothers in London. the need for an effective waterproofing agent – for coaches, drivers and passengers – drew Hancock’s attention to rubber. In April 1820 he patented India-rubber springs for various types of clothing such as gloves and suspenders. The Hancock brothers then stated an “elastic works” to manufacture items using the rubber springs.
Searching for a more effective way to process his raw material and use rubber remnants, Hancock in 1820 invented his most important device, the rubber masticator. He designed a machine with revolving teeth that tore up rubber scraps. To Hancock’s surprise, the shredded bits adhered into a solid mass of rubber that could then be pressed into moulds into solid wood blocks or rolled into sheets. Hancock’s masticator, which was perfected in 1821, made rubber manufacture commercially viable and gave birth to the rubber industry. Hancock called his machine a “pickle” and kept the process secret for over 10 years.
The advantage of the Hancock rubber masticator caught the interest of Charles Macintosh (1766-1843), who in 1823 had patented a process for waterproofing fabrics with naphtha-treated rubber. Hancock in turn applied for a licence in 1825 to use Macintosh’s naphtha process. The two men eventually became partners in the manufacture of waterproof items.
In the same year, Thomas Hancock patented elastication for use in clothing – elasticated cuffs for warmth, elasticated pockets to prevent pick-pockets and also elasticated waists.
After careful experimentation, Hancock found that Siphonia Elastica provided the greatest amount and finest quality of natural rubber. The rubber tree was subsequently hand drawn by Thomas Hancock at the Royal Botanical Gardens in 1856 and today is the signature print of Hancock of Scotland.