A Short History of Gloves

Ask GIA Blog

Glove Intelligent Assistant

Considering this is an informational glove blog, it seems we’ve jumped a bit ahead without even talking about the origin of gloves. So, today, we will be summarizing the history of gloves and their various uses.

Gloves have been documented in appearance since the Ice Ages in cave paintings. but the first physical historical evidence was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun’s Egyptian tomb in 1922. The remains are dated to be from 1343 and 1323 B.C.; the functional design is described as a snappy linen pair that ties at the wrist (Jennifer Barger, National Geographic). Barger’s same article quotes Michael Redwood, a leather and glove expert, detailing Tutankhamun having used the gloves to hold the reins of his chariot. From the very first physical documentation of gloves, they have served as protection and fashion. The degree of protection depends on the material of course, but obviously it is protection from the physical environment nonetheless.

The trend continues in the form of gauntlets in the Middle Ages (Paul Walker, History of Armour 1100-1700). These were gloves made out of metal or leather that were a vital part in defending soldiers on the battlefield. However, with the invention of firearms, gauntlets went out of usage as there was less hand to hand combat. Then beginning in the 13th century, gloves of linen and silk were worn by women as fashion statements (“Gloves.” Encyclopedia Britannica Eleventh Edition). Gloves became ubiquitous with status, and necessary for every occasion and every field, says University of York cultural historian Susan J. Vincent.

While the above information is more about the general trends of glove usage, the gloves that are more relevant to SW products are medical grade disposable gloves. The first medical glove was created by William Stewart Halsted at Baltimore’s John Hopkins Hospital in 1890. He was in love with a fellow nurse on staff and noticed that she had frequent dermatitis (skin irritation) from chemicals used in the operating room. Experimentally, he had Goodyear Rubber Company create thin rubber (latex) gloves (John G. Leyden, 1990) which then served to become so popular that other surgeons used them as a form of protection in the operating room. As the rubber gloves rose in popularity, Joseph Lister was the first to implement sterilized surgical gloves in 1864 (Walter Brown, 2018). His process involved carbolic acid and became the basis for antiseptics in the medical field (Beth Rose, 2013). The use of gloves was further facilitated as the Ansell Rubber company manufactured the first disposable latex gloves in 1964 (Marc Barton, 2018). Ansell instead used gamma radiation to sterilize their gloves (Barton 2018) which later became the main procedure for glove sterilization in the industry. It is also credited as the reason disposable gloves became possible as gamma radiation was a much cheaper alternative in the mass production of gloves.


As the glove industry started to develop, eventually manufacturers started using different raw materials in their glove production. Nitrile disposable gloves were introduced to the market in the mid 1990s (Barton, 2018). Surprisingly, they were not a direct competitor to latex, even though they could be used in more environments than latex gloves (gloves.com, When Were Rubber Gloves Invented?). As nitrile, a synthetic rubber, is more chemical resistant and puncture resistant than latex.

Allergies have continued to dictate trends in glove innovation as well. From the dermatitis that first brought about the creation of medical gloves to the latex allergies of the general population. When rubber latex gloves were first introduced, many surgeons found it difficult to don and remove them. Thus, powder was added, a mixture of lycopodium spores and talc were used in the inner cuff of gloves to help with donning and doffing the close fit latex gloves. However, lycopodium spores were found to be toxic to humans in the 1920s (Lisa Bolt, 2020) and were discontinued in usage. Talc was still used for the next 40 years until studies proved it caused postoperative complications. For a time after that, cornstarch was used as a replacement. Currently, there are strict allergy statutes regulated by the FDA on the manufacturing of powdered gloves. In 2017, the FDA banned the manufacturing of powdered gloves as more research established that even cornstarch can carry latex proteins capable of respiratory allergic reactions (Robert Lowes, 2016). Surprisingly, there was no specific government organization or statute that regulated medical devices until 1976 (Bolt, 2020). Today, medical grade exam gloves fall under section 21 CFR 800.20 of the United States Food and Drug Administration.


For the last 132 years of glove history there have been many innovations in the industry. SW hopes to also leave our mark and legacy as well. Our company has been in operation since 1984 and seen the various changes in trends first hand. So far, we have been the first to engineer nitrile chemical-resistant gloves with sustainable properties along with our other innovative glove series. Our continued success comes from adapting and being in tune with the industry, which is why it’s important to document the history of gloves to the modern age.