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Workers Carrying Rubber to a Boat, 1915

Upper Rio Branco, Brazil

New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_A3997
Document Description
Workers in Brazil carry balls of crude rubber to a boat on the Upper Rio Branco, 1915.
Historical Challenges
Research the effects, if any, that rubber collection has had on the rain forests of Brazil.
Interdisciplinary Connections


Historical Context
Rubber was first used by the people living in the Amazon basin of Brazil. Rubber trees grow naturally in the Amazon rain forest.  Grooves are cut in the tree trunks to allow a sticky, milky substance called latex to ooze out.  A small bowl is used to collect the latex.  Collecting latex does not harm the rubber trees.  After the rubber is collected, tappers (men who tap the trees and collect the rubber) smoke the rubber to make balls that can be taken to Brazilian ports and exported.  As the demand for rubber increases, the tappers have to go deeper into the rain forests to get the latex.  

Brazil was the major producer of rubber in the late 1800s.  It was first used for shoes, hoses, etc., and then for bicycles.  After the invention of the automobile in the early 1900s, the need for tires increased the demand for rubber.  Brazil could not keep up with the demand.  About this time, Southeast Asia began producing rubber from plantations of rubber trees instead of depending on trees growing in the wild.  Southeast Asia now supplies 90% of the world’s rubber.
Essential Question
How does geography impact human settlement and economy?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and discuss the impact of geography on the local economy.