Adhesives, which are widely used in today’s society, have a rich history that can be traced back quite far. Adhesives have come from very humble beginnings to what they are now. For thousands of years, many forms of adhesives have been used to bind things together. During their quest to uncover lost history, archeologists have discovered different materials that were used as adhesives. These materials include items like beeswax and tree sap. Even though adhesives had primitive beginnings, they have grown into the multi-billion dollar industry we have today. 

A History of Adhesives

From the prehistoric times, adhesives extracted from natural sources were used people to craft better weapons, tools, and more. They were also used to preserve their native culture. Some of the earliest known usage dates back to 6000 years ago, where adhesives were applied on decoration materials. 3500 years ago, adhesives were used in the creation of laminated woodwork, while 2500 years ago, they were used in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. 

Between 1500-1000 BC, glue was commonly used as a method of assembly. A casket obtained from King Tut’s tomb indicates that glue was used in its construction. Painting and murals that date back to those days also indicate the use of glue in the wood operations. The museums present today contains numerous artifacts obtained from Egyptian tombs, and most of these artifacts show the use of animal glue to bind the pieces together. 

The 1st reference of glue in literature appeared around 200 B.C. These references detail the different procedures that were used to make glue from the different sources. The next period where the use of adhesives was prevalent is from 1-500 A.D. It is during this period that the Greeks and the Romans came up with the art of veneering & marquetry. It was a technique used to bind thin layers or sections of wood. 

The rise of Romans and Greek empires brought about the increased use of glue as it was used in the construction of buildings that hold even today. An example is the Roman mosaic floor & tiles, which were glued using adhesive substances that have survived up to date.

It was during this time that the art of making fish and animal adhesives was refined. It also allowed for the development of other types of glues, which included the uses of adhesives made from egg whites to bind gold leaf. Other than egg whites, other types of adhesives made from natural ingredients came up, which included blood, hide, milk, bones, grains, cheese, and vegetables. The Romans were among the first to use beeswax and tar to caulk planking in ships and boats. 

The use of adhesives later fell into disuse and came back in 1500-1700 A.D. During this period; glue was used in construction works and building of furniture. The use of glue became widespread until a commercial adhesives factory was established in Holland. It mainly sourced its glue from animal hides.  

In 1750, Britain issued the 1st glue patent for a fish glue, and this created space for more patents as numerous companies came up with different types of glues. By 1900, US had several glue factories producing adhesives from different bases. 

While earlier civilizations used glues made from heat-treated rubber substances and plants, the commonly used adhesive in Europe between the fall of the Roman Empire and the World War 1 was created from hooves, connective tissues, and animal hides. These parts were first cooked to reduce them to jelly; they were later dried and stored in powder form. When the need to use adhesives arose, the powder was mixed with water and cooked until they got the desired thickness. And during those times, glue was only reserved for woodworkers and furniture makers. 

As the industrial revolution continued, it triggered technical breakthroughs that saw the factories opting for new materials to formulate their adhesives. Cellulose nitrate became the 1st plastic polymer derived from wood to be synthesized. It was first used in the manufacture of balls made from ivory, and they were known as Billiard balls. In 1910, the era of plastics commenced with production of a thermoset plastic, known as Bakelite phenolic. 

The 1920’s to 1940’s saw the influx of synthetically produced rubbers and plastics. The increased production is attributed to the World War II. And although adhesives have been around for quite some time, most of the adhesive technology has been developed in the last 100 years. 

The need to produce elastomers and plastics has triggered the rapid development of glues. It has also given glue formulators a diverse range of products that not only improve but also change various properties of glues. Such properties include toughness, flexibility, temperature & chemical resistance, as well as curing/setting time. 

Unlike the olden days, where the use of adhesives was only reserved for specific uses, nowadays, adhesives are used every day. They are always at arms reach such that in case the need to use it arises, you simply pick it up and fix your items. 

Common Types of Adhesives:

Animal glues: made from proteins extracted from horns, bones, hoofs, and hides of animals. They are largely used in the wood industry. 

Fish Glue: a protein-based glue extracted from the bones and skins of fish. It is exceptionally clear and was initially used for photographic emulsions. 

Casein Glue: made from proteins isolated from milk. It uses a unique extraction process that renders it waterproof. It is used in bonding cigarette papers. 

Cellulose Adhesive: made from natural polymers extracted from trees and woody plants. It is used on cellophane wrappers, decals, and strippable wallpapers.

The Future of Adhesives

The adhesives we have today is a clear demonstration of how our technological prowess has improved. But like most technological advancement, the adhesives we have today use the same technique that was used over 200,000 years ago. They’ve only made a few modifications to make the techniques more efficient. Other than that we might as well say that we are the same.