Crackpot Theory of the Day: Rope from Human Hair?

1 minute read

This will probably go down as the weirdest post I’ll write all year, perhaps even all decade, but what the heck…

I recently finished reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse. He was discussing an ancient civilization’s decline and eventual collapse, brought about in part because they apparently chopped down all of their trees. One of the things that the trees provided was bark that could be made into rope, which this civilization used to lift huge stone monuments into their final position. No more trees, no more rope, and they could no longer lift the monuments. Walking through Chicago O-Hare earlier this week, I saw a woman with long hair and suddenly I wondered if it would be possible to make rope from human hair.

Don’t ask me why this came to me, its just the way my mind works! There are all sorts of loose facts and ideas rattling around in there, and sometimes they just stick to each other in unanticipated ways.

I tucked this little theory away until today, when I could do some research. So far I have found nothing to convince me that this has been done. Apparently the famous Indian rope trick relied on a very long string possibly made from human hair. According to the Wikipedia article, the tensile strength (the amount of “pulling apart” strain that it can take before breaking) of human hair is approximately 190 MPa (mega-Pascals). This is half the strength of T6 aluminum alloy, and almost half the strength of A36 structural steel (feel free to correct me if I have made a mistake here).

Unlike aluminum or steel, hair can be braided to form a rope, it is flexible, and you don’t need to mine, refine, or extrude it. It is plentiful in nature (except at the entrance to the Hair Club for Men) and is a non-polluting, renewable resource.

I could easily imagine a society where everyone grew their hair to a length of several feet until “harvest time”, when it was cut and used to make ropes for the next big project.

If you run into this page and have any evidence in support of my crackpot theory, please feel free to post it in the comments!

Oh, and by the way, Collapse was a great book.