Synthetic Rubber: A Project That Had to Succeed

Synthetic Rubber: A Project That Had to Succeed

Synthetic Rubber: A Project That Had to Succeed

Synthetic Rubber: A Project That Had to Succeed

Synopsis

The authors recount how the synthetic rubber industry was created virtually overnight following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They examine early attempts to extend natural rubber reserves. The rest of the story is that of the full scale effort by government, industry, and academia to develop a viable alternative to natural rubber within a short time and on an economically sound basis. The authors also provide an account of what has happened to the synthetic rubber industry between the end of the war and 1980, identify some lessons that can be learned from the synthetic rubber experience for government-industry programs, and draw parallels between the rubber dependency of the 1940s and the energy dependency of the 1980s.

Excerpt

At the turn of the twentieth century, the automobile began to come of age. With that occurrence, the American public progressively became more reliant upon motor vehicles for transportation. in a similar manner, its armed forces increasingly depended on trucks, jeeps, tanks and aircraft for mobility, transport and combat effectiveness. But in peace or war, none of these vehicles could function without rubber tires or treads or innumerable rubber parts. Unquestionably, rubber had become indispensable to the American way of life. Consequently, by 1939, crude rubber was in dollar value the largest single commodity that was imported into the United States. That year, more than a half million tons of natural rubber were purchased, 98% from plantations in the Far East.

In early 1942, after Pearl Harbor, the United States suffered an almost total curtailment of natural rubber shipments from the Far East. There were no practical ways to immediately replace those Asiatic sources of supply. Conservation of existing natural rubber inventories, recycling and reuse of scrap rubber, enlarged supplies from Brazil, the Caribbean and Africa, and attempted development of domestic natural rubber production were all put into effect at once but were only minimally helpful. Ultimately, the only realistic solution was to develop a whole new synthetic rubber industry--virtually from scratch. Until then only one synthetic had been produced on a commerical scale in the United States--duPont's Neoprene.

The ensuing synthetic rubber program has been described as the most effective combination of government, industry and academia ever assembled up to that point in U.S. history to meet a massive technological and supply challenge and to accomplish the objective within a reasonable time and economically. This accomplishment deserves that accolade.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.