Rubber is one of the comparatively few universal products, that is to say, it is a substance used by almost everyone in civilization every day, as are wheat, cotton, tea and coffee.
According to the late Henry Nicholas Ridley who wrote The Story of the Rubber Industry: Showing the Growth of the Rubber Industry in Malaya from 1905-1910, rubber was derived from wild trees or vines of the tropical forests before 1898. However, as this practice eventually led to the destruction of forests and in turn resulted in there being less wild rubber plants to obtain rubber from, people began exploring ways to cultivate rubber. These attempts to cultivate rubber led to the discovery that para rubber, one of the most valued sources of rubber due to its high rubber quality and ease of cultivation, was more successfully cultivated in humid climates. As Malaya had such a climate, rubber cultivation took place in Malaya. Consequently, 11 para rubber seedlings were planted in Singapore Botanic Gardens in 1877.
Following the planting and cultivation of these 11 para rubber seedlings in Singapore Botanic Gardens and the author’s subsequent role as the director of Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1888 to 1912, the author – Henry Ridley – explored ways to tap rubber from these trees that were by then, mature enough to be tapped. In the process, he discovered that the herring-bone tapping method was the most productive rubber tapping method as it supported the extraction of rubber and did not significantly reduce the lifespan of the para rubber trees thereafter. This timely discovery of his benefited many planters in Malay Peninsula.
The book, though small in volume, packs a punch. It includes the history, geography, cultivation methods and price of rubber as well as statistics showing the growth of the rubber industry in Malaya. Readers who are interested in the topic will benefit from a quick read.
Note: The Story of the Rubber Industry: Showing the Growth of the Rubber Industry in Malaya from 1905-1910 is still copyrighted and will only be accessible online from 1 January 2027 onward. While the copyright is still in place, there are other titles on Digital Gems that cover some of the content mentioned in this book (e.g. key in rubber and botanic gardens under Basic or Advanced search).