The Lost History of Rubbermaid

Rubbermaid, now an American institution of consumer products ranging from medical supplies to cleaning supplies and beyond, got it’s start thanks to a little-known western pioneer named Obediah Jones. His story is an unusual one indeed. He made a fortune in the early discovery of rubber, which he used in the construction of scarecrows that were far more durable than the straw and cloth models. He called these weatherproof scarecrows Rubbermaids.

Obediah Jones was born and raised in Virginia during the era of westward migrations of the late 1700s. He was a specialist in hand-made cleaning supplies and rubber scarecrows, but dreamed of exploring the wild west. After hearing of the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, Obediah used his rubber scarecrow earnings to travel west and claim his piece of private land. Unfortunately, in his haste Obediah accidentally stepped on an errant bear trap and lost his leg. His travels were slowed considerably, and by the time he reached the plains of what is now modern-day Oklahoma, all of the land was already claimed. Instead of giving up, OJ used his experience in molding rubber to create America’s first rubber prosthetic leg. You could say that this new leg gave him a considerable bounce in his step. Obediah decided we would push further west until he reached the coast.

Rubbermaid products in actionDuring this time, one of the biggest obstacles to traveling west of Oklahoma were crocodiles. At the time, ammunition was far too precious to waste on anything other than hunting for food but fortunately for Obediah, all he needed was his sharp wit and the abundance of the Great Rubbertree Forests of the old midwest. He would clamp the mouths of any offending crocodiles with his own design of elastic muzzles made from rubber, that are known today as rubber bands. By first wiggling his rubber leg out as bait, he would quickly render the crocodiles harmless.

Obediah Jones finally made it to California to live a full and happy life. He improved the lives of everyone around him with his Rubbermaid scarecrows and durable cleaning supplies. For twenty years in a row he was appointed the referee of the Annual Cart Derby of San Francisco, which was back then a heart-pounding recreational sport. His carts sported rubber wheels and were always the fastest. When Cart Derbies were eventually banned due to the number of fatalities involved, the racers were re-purposed as janitorial carts. Even today San Francisco is known for back-alley janitor cart races.

Even after his death on February 13th 1855, Obediah continued to create innovations that improved the lives of others around him. Obediah was lovingly buried in a monumental crypt made entirely of rubber, a testament to his innovation and durability. Oddly enough, this weatherproof burial chamber was the catalyst to the invention of Rubbermaid outdoor sheds. commemorates February 13th as Rubbermaid day and remembers Obediah Jones, founder of Rubbermaid and true American pioneer. To celebrate his innovation, you can download a copy of the real Prairie Traveler, early America’s official guide to pioneering the perilous west.

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