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Is Glue Made from Horses? History, Types, Greener Alternatives

Have you ever heard the saying, “Take the horse to the glue factory”? History has it that horses were involved in glue-making.  

Manufacturers discovered that the materials needed to make glue could be found in animal joints, bones, and hooves. Today, people make glue from diverse sources, including animal-based ingredients, plants, and other synthetic compounds. 

So, are glues made from horses? Do people kill horses to make animal glues? Read on as we unpack all you need to know about animal glue, horses, and glue production.

History of animal glue production 

animal glue
Photo by Simon Eugster on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

So, back to the old saying. How did “Take the Horse to the Glue Factory?” come about? 

First, glue is a sticky substance that binds two surfaces or materials together. Our ancestors used glue to repair broken objects like clay pots. Many used adhesives for carpentry and created glues using materials like bones, hoofs, and hides. Manufacturers also made other adhesives from egg whites, grains, vegetables, and beeswax. 

The first known written procedures for making hide glues date back to 2000 BC1. People used them for mural paintings and wood furnishings. The first commercial glue factory opened in Holland in the early 18th century, using animal hides for glue making2

In ancient Egypt, carvers used animal glue to make caskets for Egyptian pharaohs3.  

Over the years, more glue factories began producing animal glue, and they got animal parts from meat factories. Examples of animal glue include hoof, fish, horse, rabbit skin, and bone glue. You may find animal glue in products like photographic film, pharmaceutical capsules, gelatin desserts, and more.  

Thanks to scientific research and modern technology, synthetic polymers became popular in the 20th century, and glue manufacturers used them to produce adhesives. Synthetic glues provide durable adhesive properties without the need for animal by-products.  

Today, we have some synthetic adhesives that are easily removable and other adhesives like Super glue that manufacturers design to be durable.  

What are the different types of animal glues?

different types of animal glue
Photo by Simon A. Eugster on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

Animal glues are glues from bones, skin, connective tissues, hooves, horns, teeth, and other animal parts. Manufacturers make most animal glues by extracting collagen from animals through boiling. 

The word collagen comes from the Greek root word κόλλα (kolla), meaning glue or gum, and is an essential protein found in hides, bones, and connective tissues. 

Another method manufacturers use to make animal glues is to extract keratin by boiling hooves and horns. Hoof glues, for example, come from this method and are great adhesives for woodworking. 

Here are some types of animal glues: 

Hide glue

Hide glue is one of the most traditional types of glue, and manufacturers derive it from animal hides and connective tissues. Traditionally, hide glue was produced mainly from the hides of horses and cattle. 

The manufacturing process involves soaking the hides in water to extract collagen and then heating it to create a gelatin substance which manufacturers then process into flakes. They have a strong bond making them excellent for woodwork, musical instrument construction, restoration of antiques, etc. 

Bone glue  

Just like hide glue, bone glue comes from animal parts, precisely the bones of animals. Manufacturers get the bones of pigs or cattle and boil them to extract collagen and other proteins. Once extracted, they dry the solution to form bone glues. Bone glues were great for woodwork, binding, and the production of paints.  

Rabbit skin glue 

As the name suggests, this type of glue comes from rabbit hides. People use rabbit glue for art, particularly painting, because it provides a smooth and absorbent surface. 

Animal-derived glues              

Some glues have animal origin but don't necessarily fall under the term “animal glue.” Here are a few glues with animal ingredients: 

1. Fish glue

Fish glue was once a prominent type of animal-derived glue produced from the skin and bones of non-oily fish. Manufacturers also make fish glue from isinglass, a kind of collagen from fish swim bladders. The production process involves cleaning and processing these fish parts to extract the collagen. 

The extracted collagen then goes through a series of treatments to break it into usable adhesive form. They are more flexible and moisture-resistant than other animal glues, making them great for specific applications. Their strong adhesive properties make them great for bonding porous materials like wood, leather, and paper.

2. Shellac glue

Shellac comes from the lac bug's excretion, a common sight in Southeast Asia and India. These tiny insects feed on the sap of certain trees, and their secretions create a protective cocoon around them. 

Manufacturers then harvest and process the secretions to create shellac, which they mix with other ingredients to produce animal glue. Thanks to its fast drying time and glossy finish, many use shellac glue for versatile applications like antique restoration, piano repairs, woodwork, and more. 

3. Casein glue

Other glues typically come from collagen. However, casein glue comes from milk proteins. Manufacturers use casein, a major protein in milk, to create water-resistant adhesives. Their water resistance and strength make them suitable for applications where moisture might be a concern. Many people use this type of glue for applications like paper bonding, woodworking, etc. 

Characteristics of animal glue

hide glue room temperature
Photo by Just plain Bill on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

Animal-based glues have unique properties that made them popular for centuries. Here are a few unique properties of animal-based glue: 

  • Flexible application: Animal-based glues are known for their flexibility, making them suitable for applications where the bonded materials may experience movement or stress. This makes it excellent for woodworking and bookbinding.
  • Penetrates porous materials: Animal-based glues can penetrate the pores of materials such as wood, paper, and fabric, creating strong and durable bonds. This has made animal glues historically popular in woodworking and the restoration of artworks
  • Reversibility: Another unique characteristic of certain animal glues is that they are reversible. This means you can easily break down the bond under specific conditions, making it easy to disassemble and repair items without causing irreversible damage. 
  • Eco-friendly: Animal-based glues come from natural sources, specifically collagen found in animal connective tissues, making them biodegradable and ultimately eco-friendly.                       

So, is glue made from horses?

horse
Photo by Silje Midtgård on Unsplash.

Manufacturers use horse parts to make glue. These body parts include horse skin, horse hooves, and connective tissues. Horse hooves, in particular, are a source of high-quality collagen, which is valuable for glue production. In the 18th and 19th centuries, ranchers disposed of their dead horses or unwanted horses in glue factories. 

People collected the horse parts, cleaned them, and put them in boiling water. The collagen around these horse body parts turns to gelatin. Manufacturers then remove the impurities and use the final product as animal glue. 

However, while manufacturers used horses to make horse glue, they also used other animals, like cows, pigs, fish, and rabbits, to make animal glue. There is no evidence that manufacturers used horses more than other animals to make animal glue. 

Do people kill horses for animal glue production?

Some may claim that people killed horses explicitly for making glue. However, this is false. Today, we primarily use synthetic adhesives, which come from synthetic materials. However, some companies still make glues from animal skin and bones. 

Companies that make natural glues use parts of dead horses or animals. Their manufacturers send the dead horse and animal parts to a glue factory for animal glue production. 

They also transport these dead animals and harvest them as delicious horse meat for human consumption. Companies also use gelatin from quine hooves to produce Jell-O and gummy bears. Some sick horses may also be slaughtered and used as food for animals like large cats at zoos. 

Is animal glue sustainable?

animal skin glue
Photo by Simon A. Eugster on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

To determine the sustainability of animal-based glue, several factors will need to be considered, including sourcing raw materials, manufacturing methods, and environmental impact. 

As we already know, animal-based glue comes from collagen found in animals like horses, rabbits, cows, and pigs. So, animal-based glue is renewable since it comes from biological materials. It is also biodegradable, which means it can break down naturally over time. 

However, ethical concerns about animal welfare exist. The production of glue may involve harvesting animal tissues and even slaughtering. 

Also, the production of animal glue may require significant resources, including energy and water, contributing to its environmental footprint. The transportation and processing of animal-derived materials can further add to its overall impact.

Thanks to technological advancements, more sustainable alternative materials, such as plant-based or synthetic options, are now widely available.

Vegan glues - alternative to animal-based glues

vegan glue
Photo by Scott Sanker on Unsplash.

In recent years, many have moved from animal-based glues to other synthetic and vegan adhesives. Many have criticized the use of animal-based glue because of its impact on animal welfare. 

Today, while some companies still produce and distribute animal glues, it is more common to find vegan glues made of plant-based and synthetic materials:

Plant-based glues 

Plant-based glues typically come from renewable plant sources like starch, cellulose, and natural gums. They are a great eco-friendly and cruelty-free alternative to animal-based glues. These types of glues are common in paper and cardboard industries. 

Synthetic glues 

Synthetic glues mostly come from petroleum-based compounds. Today, these types of glues are the most common thanks to their their versatility and strong bonding properties. There are no animal by-products, and they are just as durable. Many use synthetic glues for arts and crafts, woodworking, household applications, and more. 

Bio-based glues 

These types of glues use renewable resources like corn, soy, or sugarcane. They are excellent alternatives to animal-based glues and reduce the dependency on fossil fuels, making them a more sustainable type of glue. Bio-based glues are efficient and great for applications like construction and packaging. 

As we already mentioned, most glue brands are synthetic and cruelty-free. Here are a few popular brands that offer vegan glues: 

1. Elmer’s Glue

Elmer’s glue didn’t start vegan, as it was initially casein glue, which came from milk. In the dairy industry, Borden Company produced Elmer’s glue. However, while their glue came from milk, the brand never used horses, hides, hooves, or other animal parts to make it. Today, Elmer’s has a line of PVA-based synthetic adhesives. 

2. Gorilla Glue

If you bought Gorilla Glue from the market, you can be sure that it is 100% vegan. This synthetic adhesive does not use animal-based ingredients or perform animal testing. 

3. Krazy Glue

Krazy Glue is one of the most popular superglue brands. Its glue is made from chemical compounds that are not derived from animals. 

Wrapping up

Horses, among other animals, are rich in collagen, and people have used them for many centuries to make animal-based glue. You may still find some glues today that contain animal by-products. However, most glues are synthetic.  

1

Ntasi, G., Sbriglia, S., Pitocchi, R., Vinciguerra, R., Melchiorre, C., Dello Ioio, L., Fatigati, G., Crisci, E., Bonaduce, I., Carpentieri, A., Marino, G., & Birolo, L. (2022). Proteomic Characterization of Collagen-Based Animal Glues for Restoration. Journal of Proteome Research, 21(9), 2173–2184.

2

Ntasi, G., Sbriglia, S., Pitocchi, R., Vinciguerra, R., Melchiorre, C., Dello Ioio, L., Fatigati, G., Crisci, E., Bonaduce, I., Carpentieri, A., Marino, G., & Birolo, L. (2022). Proteomic Characterization of Collagen-Based Animal Glues for Restoration. Journal of Proteome Research, 21(9), 2173–2184.

3

Ntasi, G., Sbriglia, S., Pitocchi, R., Vinciguerra, R., Melchiorre, C., Dello Ioio, L., Fatigati, G., Crisci, E., Bonaduce, I., Carpentieri, A., Marino, G., & Birolo, L. (2022). Proteomic Characterization of Collagen-Based Animal Glues for Restoration. Journal of Proteome Research, 21(9), 2173–2184.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by Simon A. Eugster on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).
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