Word Origin & History
"thing that rubs," 1536, from rub (v.). The meaning "elastic substance from tropical plants" (short for India rubber) first recorded 1788, introduced to Europe 1744 by Charles Marie de la Condamine, so called because it was originally used as an eraser.
"Very useful for erasing the strokes of black lead pencils, and is popularly called rubber, and lead-eater." [entry for Caoutchouc in, Howard, "New Royal Encyclopedia," 1788]
Meaning "overshoes made of rubber" is 1842, Amer.Eng.; slang sense of "condom" is from 1930s. Sense of "deciding match" in a game or contest is 1599, of unknown origin, and perhaps an entirely separate word. Rubberneck (v.) is attested from 1896. Rubber stamp is from 1881; fig. sense of "institution whose power is formal but not real" is from 1919; the v. in this sense is from 1934. Rubber cement is attested from 1895. Rubber check is from 1927.