If it weren't for Henry Wickham, a 19th-century British botanist and explorer, our birthday parties would likely be bereft of balloons. Just a few centuries ago, the world’s entire rubber supply came from the Hevea brasiliensis, or rubber trees, that grew deep in the jungles of Brazil. But in 1876 [PDF], Wickham exported about 70,000 rubber tree seeds to England by steamboat, where 2800 of them germinated in London’s famous botanical garden, Kew Gardens.
According to some accounts, the botanist “stole” these seeds without the Brazilian government’s permission, while others argue he had secured customs clearance, and that the export of rubber seeds from Brazil wasn’t banned at the time. Either way, Wickham’s efforts contributed to a worldwide rubber revolution, as his seedlings provided the genetic stock for rubber plantations in British, Dutch, and French colonies across Asia.
A brief version of this story is recounted in the video below, which was produced by The Magic of Making, a series of short educational films created along with BBC. Spotted by The Kid Should See This, the clip takes viewers on behind-the-scenes factory tours to see how latex is transferred from tree to factory, where it’s used to make balloons.
[h/t The Kid Should See This]