The History of the Silicone Elastomer

Silicone-based materials have been proving their worth since the dawn of civilization. Here we explore the discovery, development, and use of the silicone material for different applications.

In the early 1940s, the US started researching and testing the properties of silicones to help with the war effort. The first silicone product was a paste that protected electrical sparking equipment in airplanes.

Silicone Elastomer History

Silicone rubbers are a modern category of elastomers and can be distinguished from organic polymers, such as rubber, latex, and polyurethane, among others, because of their mineral nature. The basic element in silicone chemistry is silicon (Si). This name comes from the Latin “silex, silicis”, meaning rock. Silicon naturally exists in a combined form, mainly silicon dioxide SiO2 (known as quartz or silica) and as silicates. They represent 25.8% of the earth’s crust’s total weight, making silicon the second most abundant chemical element (aside from oxygen) and the most important chemical base for mineral materials.

The silicon-based technology began in ancient times during the Stone Age; quartz and other silica-based stones were fashioned into tools. The Romans learned how to turn sand into glass.

In 1823, the Swedish chemist, Jöns Jackob Berzelius, first managed to isolate silicon on its own, processing potassium silicofluorure (K2SiF6) with an excess of metallic potassium. Taking his research further, he heated silicon in chlorine, which had an effect of a vigorous combustion. The result was silicon tetrachloride, one of the materials still used to produce silicones. In 1854, Henry Sainte-Claire Deville obtained crystalline silicon. In 1930, J.F. Hyde ran the first research to produce commercial silicones. In 1940, the English chemist, Frederich Stanley Kipping, using Hyde’s research, gave the material the name “silicones” because they were “sticky messes”. Kipping did not establish the use of the silicone elastomer, and he believed there were no practical uses for the material.

In the meantime, R. Müller and E.G. Rochow, at the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research, developed different methods for silicones synthesis, which could be used on an industrial scale. In the same decade, Dr. J. Franklin Hyde of Corning Glass produced the first commercially useful silicone product, a silicone resin for impregnating and coating glass cloth used in electrical insulation. In 1949, James Wright, a GE engineer, was looking for a rubber substitute. He mixed silicone oil with boric acid and the product was commercialized and called Silly Putty. It has been one of the fastest selling toys in history.

silicone elastomere silly putty

 

In 1950, Syl-Flex®, a silicone leather treatment was launched. In 1960, Neil Armstrong used boots with silicone soles to make the first footprint on the moon.

In 1970, 3MTM invented the “Post-it”, with an adhesive tape made from a silicone base. Additionally, liquid silicone rubber (LSR) was developed.

silicone elastomer for post it notes

In 1980, silicones played a major role in the progression of new microprocessor based technologies: silicones protect products exposed to extreme over-heating.

silicone elastomer in microprocessing

In 1990, the first contact lenses were made with silicone hydrogel, and now, in the 21st century, silicones are everywhere: shampoo, cooking molds, smart phone screen covers, microprocessors, photovoltaic panels, and more.

We encourage you to visit our website www.SIMTEC-Silicone.com to learn more about our industry-specific applications and benefits of LSR!

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