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Have you ever heard the unsettling story of old horses being sent to a glue factory? This used to be widely believed. But does this tale ring true today? There’s a bit of truth to it, but it’s more complicated than you might think.
Some kinds of glue are made from horses. Horses are big and provide a lot of collagen, which is used in making animal glues. However, it’s generally illegal to sell horses just to kill them for glue or any other commercial reason.
So, come along with me as I dig into the surprising ties between horses and glue and unravel this tricky mystery. Things aren’t always as they seem.
Historical Connection Between Horses and Glue
Horse glue has been used for thousands of years. There are historical records that show it was utilized by Egyptians, who would boil animal hides, hooves, and connective tissue to make a bonding agent. They primarily used glue for papyrus scrolls and royal furniture.
In more recent times, horses have been used to make glue for musical instruments and other items. The main reason horses are used for glue is because they are large and have a lot of connective tissue.
This tissue can be used to make a very strong adhesive. Horses that were too old or too sick to work were often “sent to the glue factory,” so using them for glue is a way to make use of a product that would otherwise go to waste. Today very little animal glue is used; most adhesives are synthetic.
Modern Glue Production
Glue-making has come a long way since the days of horses and boiling pots. Today’s glue production largely revolves around synthetic materials, far removed from our equine friends.
Modern glues are primarily made from petroleum-based chemicals. These polymers are the secret behind the sticky magic. Depending on the type of glue being produced – whether it’s superglue, school glue, or industrial adhesive – the specific chemicals and process will vary.
But what about horses in today’s glue production? They’re actually quite rare in the mix. While animal glues are still in use for certain applications, like restoring antique furniture or in violin making, horse-based glue is not the go-to choice. Why? Because synthetic glues are more consistent, reliable, and easier to produce on a large scale.
So, while it’s not impossible to find a horse in the equation, it’s a real rarity. Our modern adhesive industry has galloped far from its horse-based origins.
The Role of Horses in Glue Manufacturing Today
Despite the big leap in synthetic glue manufacturing, horses haven’t entirely left the stage. They do make rare appearances in some specific situations.
In the world of high-end restorations and musical instrument making, horse glue sometimes takes center stage. Why? This animal-based adhesive has unique properties that synthetics can’t replicate. It’s reversible, meaning it can be softened and removed without damaging delicate, antique wood. This feature is especially cherished by violin makers and restorers.
But how does a horse become a part of this process, you might wonder? It all starts with collagen, a protein that’s abundant in horse hides and hooves. When this collagen is boiled, it produces a sticky substance. After refining and drying, this substance becomes a hard, brittle material, which can be rehydrated into glue when needed.
It’s important to note, however, that horses aren’t typically killed just for this purpose. Instead, the remains of horses that have died naturally or been euthanized for other reasons may be used. So, while horses still play a role in glue making, it’s far from being a leading part of today’s production processes.
What Kinds of Glue are Made From Horses?
While I was using a glue gun to secure some decorative pieces onto a shadow box, I wondered about the different types of glue made from horses.
Animal glue is dissolvable in water, and it is slow binding, applied hot, and commonly put in place with a brush. Some animal glue is kept as a rigid block.
Water-soluble adhesives, such as animal glue, are useful on items that may need to be separated at some point. Steam or alcohol can be applied to the bonding agent for easy separation.
To prepare the adhesives, break them into chips and mix them with hot water until melted. Once the chips are melted, simmer them until it gets to the desired consistency.
The adhesive may be applied in layers by brush or spatula, and it doesn’t provide waterproof protection. Hide glue for use on musical instruments can be found here.
Animal parts have been used in the production of adhesives for thousands of years. Over 10,000 years ago, the first bows were made using hoof glue. The earliest writings referencing liquid animal glue are 2000 years old.
For thousands of years, animal glue was a crucial component in the construction of furniture. In the 1700s, the Dutch opened the first commercial animal glue factory in Holland.
Using animal adhesives to make furniture continued until a synthetic substitute was discovered in the 20th century.
Horse glue is still used today in specialty applications, such as piano repairs, bookbinding, antique restoration, and medical procedures. A paste made from a horse’s hoofs is used today in cabinetry and exceptional woodworking projects.
How Horses are Used to Make Glue
When I was standing next to one of our horses, I realized just how massive these animals are. This realization made me wonder how people transformed them into glue throughout history.
Making adhesives from an animal is a process of breaking down chemicals and extracting moisture. The main body parts used to make glue from a horse are the hide, bones, muscles, tendons, and hoofs.
To make adhesives from a horse:
- Collection: Commercial glue manufacturers collect animal parts from slaughterhouses, animal farms, meatpacking plants, and tanneries;
- Wash: The retrieved body parts are washed, dirt is removed, and everything is soaked so that pieces are softened.
- Soak: Next, the hides and other parts are put in a series of water baths with more and more lime in them. The introduction of lime causes the material to swell and break down.
- Rinse: Rinse the lime off all the material with water and weak acids;
- Color: Add a color additive to the mix.
- Drying: Water is extracted to harden the glue.
To make adhesives from hoofs or bones, you can use this process:
Hooves are made up of a hard outer shell and a softer inner material. This inner material, known as cartilage, is full of collagen, which is what gives glue its adhesive properties.
In order to extract the collagen from horse hooves, they must first be boiled in water. This breaks down the connective tissue and allows the collagen to be separated from the rest of the hoof. Here is the process:
- Collect the hooves, and wash them;
- Break them into small chunks;
- Boil them in water until liquefied;
- Add acid to thicken it into a gel;
- Cool and allow to harden;
- To use the hoof glue, heat the substance until it reaches the required consistency and apply it with a brush.
Adhesives Have Been Around Since 4000 B.C.
Adhesives have been around since the days of the caveman. Pottery repaired with tree sap resin was found by archaeologists studying a burial site from 4000 B.C.
Egyptians used animal glue in tombs.
Egyptians first began using adhesives derived from animals in 1500 B.C. King Tuts’ coffin was built using animal glue. Egyptians also developed casein adhesives from milk.
Early writings explained how adhesives were used on Egyptian Pharaoh’s tomb furniture. And besides its use on tomb furniture, our ancestors used it on bowstrings, securing fabric to wood, stiffening the material, and creating lacquers to protect valuable furniture and other objects.
Romans used animal adhesives in art.
Romans refined animal adhesives from about 1-500 A.D. They learned to produce adhesives from blood, bone, hide, and milk. These adhesives were used in art and wood veneering.
However, from 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D., most other Europeans scarcely used animal glue. The first glue-producing factory opened in Holland in 1690. The factory made its adhesives from animal hides.
The first adhesives patent was granted in England in the mid-1700s. Plastic development in the early 1900s ushered in the resurgence of resin adhesives. With the new synthetic resins, animal glue use dropped drastically.
Are Horses Killed to Make Glue?
When I first got into the horseracing industry, some owners sold their former racehorses at auctions. I wondered if these horses were being sent to glue factories, so I decided to find out.
Horses are not killed to make glue. It’s against U.S. law to sell horses to be commercially slaughtered for any purpose. In 2007 a federal law was passed banning horse slaughter in the U.S. That same year, the last three horse slaughterhouses shuttered their doors.
The 2007 ban has been renewed through the years and is still in effect today. The most recent renewal had the bipartisan support of Congress and was part of President Trump’s infrastructure bill.
Before the passing of the ban, the horse slaughterhouse business was thriving. Although eating horse meat is frowned on in the U.S., it is consumed regularly in Europe and Asia.
The ban has supporters in the animal protection community, but they also don’t believe the law goes far enough. What they would like to see is a ban on transporting horses to slaughterhouses outside of the country.
Many people are in the business of transporting horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter. They’re referred to as “kill buyers.” They go to auctions and purchase horses solely to sell to slaughterhouses.
The Humane Society of the United States, an animal rights organization, claims more than 100,000 horses are bought at auctions for the sole purpose of transporting horses to slaughterhouses outside the U.S.
The Safeguard American Food Exports Act introduced in 2019 would bring an end to selling horses to slaughterhouses. The measure proposes to end the transport of any equine abroad to be slaughtered for human consumption, and it would also ensure that slaughter plants in the U.S. remain closed.
However, there are opponents of the bill with a strong argument. The American Veterinary Medical Association is concerned about what will happen to horses no longer wanted if horse owners cannot sell them for meat..
Horse rescues are full, hay costs have risen, and equine neglect cases are going up. Proponents believe a swift death at a slaughterhouse is preferable to a horse being abused or starving to death.
To read more about horse abuse, read our article here, and if you are interested in rescuing a retired racehorse, check out our article. Both reports provide helpful resources to foster better treatment of horses.
What Products Are Made from Horses?
Now that I know horses can be used to make glue, I became curious to know if other products were made from a horse.
Horses are used to make violin bowstrings, jewelry, and paintbrushes. These products are made using the animal’s long tail, mane hair, and humane collection methods.
- Violin bowstrings: Horsehair from the tail of a horse is used to make strings on a violin’s bows. Horsehair creates a better sound than synthetic material. Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber Violin Bow is a horsehair violin bow made with horsehair sold by Amazon.
- Jewelry: Some necklaces and bracelets are made from the hair of a horse’s mane or tail.
- Paintbrushes: Some artist prefers to use brushes made from horsehair than synthetic materials. They believe horsehair paintbrushes have superior qualities, such as holding paint better and applying smoother.
Is Elmer’s Glue Made from Horses?
So my granddaughter and I discussed horse glue pretty thoroughly, but she still had a question about Elmer’s glue. She wanted to know if they made their glue from horses. So I showed her the answer to that straight from Elmer’s Company. They get asked this question frequently:
“No, Elmer’s does not make glue from horses or use animals or animal parts. Our products are made from synthetic materials and are not derived from processing horses, cows, or any other animals. Although there are many ingredients used to make glue, most formulas contain something called polymers. “
Is Gorilla Glue made from Horses or Gorillas?
Gorilla glue has a funny name and a picture of a gorilla on its label. Does this mean the adhesive is made from a gorilla, a horse, or another animal? I decided I needed to find out and not wait for my granddaughter to ask.
Gorilla Glue is not made from horses or gorillas, nor any other animal. Gorilla Glue is a polyurethane-based polyurethane glue that was used primarily outside the U.S. in the woodworking industry.
In 1994 it was discovered and brought to the United States as Gorilla Glue. They initially sold their product only to furniture makers. It was made available to the public in 1999.
Below is a YouTube video on the history of adhesives.
What part of the horse is used for glue?
Collagen extracted from the hides, bones, muscles, tendons, and hoofs are the primary body parts of the horse used to make glue.
Do horses still go to the glue factory?
No, when horses are no longer useful, they are often sent to slaughterhouses across our borders to Canada and Mexico and sold for meat. Thankfully, organizations are working to rescue horses and find them new homes. But it’s a tough battle.
When did we stop using horses for glue?
Horses were commonly used for glue up until the early 20th century. However, horses are rarely used for this purpose today because there are synthetic options available that are cheaper and more effective.
I love animals! Especially horses, I’ve been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn’t make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines.