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A Sticky Situation: The History of Glue and Horses

bottle of glue
Written by Michelle Greene

Is Glue Made from Horses?

“That horse belongs in a glue factory” is a horrifying, albeit common, phrase you might hear if you spend some time around horse people. Glue, and its historical connection to horses, is an understandably sensitive topic in the equestrian community.

We’re going to dive into the origins of glue production, address some common questions, and debunk misconceptions surrounding the use of horses in glue-making. (That said, if you find the idea of horses being repurposed post-mortem upsetting—you may want to skip this article.) But there’s good news: horses are no longer a part of the glue production process!

Glue manufacturing has a long history that has evolved over time. But how did horses play a role in the production process? And are our equine partners still being used today?

horses pulling a carriage

Source: Canva

Glue Manufacturing: Past and Present

How did we get from adhesives made with animal by-products to modern synthetic sticky stuff? The answer lies in advances in technology, production, and science.

Collagen is Critical

Collagen is like the ‘superhero’ of glue-making—a crucial ingredient that holds everything together. This mighty protein, found in animals’ hooves, bones, and hides, acts as the glue’s secret sauce, providing the adhesive strength and durability we rely on for various applications.

It is important to remember that glue has been around much longer than modern technology and synthetic materials. In the past, glue was made from animal-based collagen and traditionally obtained from horses, but now other animals, such as cattle and pigs, are more commonly used.

Additionally, advancements in biotechnology have led to the development of synthetic collagen, further reducing the reliance on animal-derived sources.

collagen sources with pink background

Source: Canva

Historical Glue Ingredients

The first glue factory opened in Holland in the 1700s, while the first one in the US opened in 1899. In the early 20th century, glue-making relied on natural ingredients, including those derived from animals.

The original production of glue and other adhesives involved a process that tapped into the collagen-rich materials found in horses and other animals.

Hooves, bones, and hides were carefully collected, cleaned, and prepared for extraction. The collagen, a vital component of glue, was then obtained by boiling or simmering these animal parts. This collagen-rich mixture underwent further processing and refinement to create the sticky substance we know as glue.

A “Glue”volution

In the mid-20th century, scientific research and innovation created new advanced polymers and resins. These new products provided reliable adhesive properties without having to use animal by-products.

These synthetic materials, carefully engineered through scientific research, have become the foundation of modern glue formulas.

Not only are glues made today stronger and longer-lasting, but they are also more sustainable and protect animal welfare. YAY!

The History of Horses Being Used for Glue

Horses played a role in glue production due to their collagen-rich tissues.

Historically, horse hooves were particularly valuable as they provided a source of high-quality collagen. The hooves were collected, cleaned, and processed to extract the necessary components for glue manufacturing.

Origin of the Term “Glue Factory Horse”

Growing up, I definitely heard some crass jokes about poorly performing racehorses “running to the glue factory,” or something similarly awful. But where did the term “Glue Factory Horse” come from?

The term “glue factory horse” emerged due to the association between horses and glue production. We have to remember that in the 1800s and 1900s horses were working animals.

Sometimes, horses who had lost their “working value” would be sold to glue factories in order to recoup the loss.

While horses did play a role in traditional glue manufacturing, it’s important to note that this term does not accurately reflect current industry practices. Today, glue production primarily relies on synthetic materials and innovative manufacturing processes that do not involve the use of horses or other animals.

black and white cowboy riding horse

Source: Canva

Modern Glue Materials

Modern glues predominantly consist of synthetic materials, such as polymers and resins, which provide just as good, if not better, adhesive properties. These synthetic adhesives offer increased strength, durability, and versatility for a wide range of applications.

You can get very specific kinds of glues these days—from craft and jewelry glue to wood glue. These synthetic materials have become the preferred choice in industries such as construction, woodworking, and crafts due to their reliable performance and sustainable characteristics.

NOTE: Glue made from animal by-products can sometimes still be found in the restoration industry— specifically in the restoration of antique furniture and violins.

horses grazing

Source: Canva

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Is glue still made from horses?

No, modern glue production primarily relies on synthetic materials and does not involve horses or other animals.

Q: Why do they say glue is made from horses?

Glue used to be made from animal by-products, and horses made up a majority of animals used for their large mass and collagen rich hooves. The association between horses and glue production stems from this historical practice.

Q: Is gorilla glue made from horses?

No, gorilla glue is a synthetic adhesive that does not contain horse-related ingredients.

Q: Does Elmer’s glue have horse by-products in it?

Elmer’s glue does not contain horse-related ingredients and is primarily composed of synthetic materials.

Q: When did they stop using horses for glue?

The shift away from using horses for glue production occurred as the industry embraced synthetic alternatives, with the transition happening over the course of the 20th century. There is not a specific date that a shift occurred.

Q: How much glue does one horse make?

There isn’t a direct answer for how much glue does one horse make. The amount of glue produced from one horse varied based on the specific manufacturing processes. No matter, it is important to note that horses are no longer used for glue production.

Q: Is glue made from animals?

While traditional glue production relied on animal-derived sources, the majority of glue today is made from synthetic materials.

Q: Is glue made from horse sperm?

No, glue is not made from horse sperm. This is a misconception and has never had any basis in the glue manufacturing processes.

Q: What is Elmer’s glue made out of?

Elmer’s glue is primarily composed of synthetic polymers and resins, making it a synthetic adhesive.

Parting Thoughts

Talking about the history of glue and how horses were integral to its creation can be a ‘sticky subject’ for some equestrians. I hope this exploration into the world of glue production has shed light on this darker side of equine history.

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About the author


I'm Michelle, an enthusiast who embarked on my equestrian journey at the age of 5 through Pony Club, weaving through training until high school. After a hiatus for school and family, I’ve joyfully rekindled my passion, now navigating the equestrian world through hunter/jumper riding.