How Native Civilizations Innovated to Conquer the Wilderness

Did Native Americans wear the world’s first sneakers? Not exactly. “We didn’t invent Chuck Taylors,” says Duane Blue Spruce, a museum project manager. “But we did invent the chemical processes” for making rubber.

More than three millennia before Charles Goodyear gets credit for inventing vulcanization, the Olmecs were making rubber in what is now southern Mexico, in 1600 B.C. Along with later Mesoamerican civilizations, including the Maya and the Aztecs, they developed separate formulas to produce different types of rubber: strong rubber bands to strap handles onto tools, durable rubber soles for their sandals, and the bouncy rubber balls they used in their ritual ballgame, which was played for centuries in courts across a wide swath of Mexico and beyond.

Young boys play Native American Instruments in a museum room

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