photo: Warner Bros.
If there was something in the air in mid-May, it certainly was sticky: news regarding superglue was coming from near and far. And it was from very far
According to archeologists at the University of the Witwatersrand (UW) in Johannesburg, South Africa, Stone Age humans created their own form of superglue about 70,000 years ago by carefully mixing a high-iron content pigment known as red ochre with the gum of the acacia tree.
Previously, archeologists thought red ochre was only used for decorative purposes, but when recreating primitive superglue formulae, they found the adhesive without it was more brittle, and less shatter-resistant and robust.
"They couldn't possibly have known about chemical pH or iron content...but they knew that certain combinations of things worked very well," UW study team member Lyn Wadley recently told the National Geographic News. "Our study shows that there's a lot of overlap between ourselves and these ancient people. Their technology was a lot more competent than we have given them credit for."
Luckily, humanity's use of superglue has gone beyond prehistoric tools of mere survival: In mid-May, Henkel's brand of Loctite Super Glue was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for the "heaviest vehicle ever lifted with a commercially available glue."
To meet the world record, nine drops of the company's product were used to lift a pickup truck, with a compact car in its bed, above the ground for an hour. The overall weight of the vehicles was 5.02 tons, about one ton more than the previous record.
And now to lay an urban myth to rest: modern superglue was not invented to seal battle wounds during the Vietnam War. Modern superglues are cyanoacrylates, and they were discovered in 1942 by Harry Coover and Fred Joyner at Kodak Laboratories. The scientists were not looking for glue; they were seeking a better acrylic to use in gunsights for World War II. Cyanoacrylates' potential as an extra-strength adhesive wasn't realized until the mid-1950s, when they were first marketed as Eastman 910.
Cyanoacrylate glues did see use on the battlefield, though: sprayed onto wounds, the glues stopped the bleeding, and added precious time for treatment. "Many, many lives were saved," Coover said in 2004.
Early compounds tended to irritate the skin, often severely, and while the military felt this was an acceptable risk under combat situations, it did keep the US Food and Drug Administration from approving these glues until formulas in the late-1990s were proved to be less irritating.
But the caveman did have it first.