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Growing American Rubber

Growing American Rubber: Strategic Plants and the Politics of National Security

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Growing American Rubber
    Book Description:

    Growing American Rubberexplores America's quest during tense decades of the twentieth century to identify a viable source of domestic rubber. Straddling international revolutions and world wars, this unique and well-researched history chronicles efforts of leaders in business, science, and government to sever American dependence on foreign suppliers. Mark Finlay plots out intersecting networks of actors including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, prominent botanists, interned Japanese Americans, Haitian peasants, and ordinary citizensùall of whom contributed to this search for economic self-sufficiency. Challenging once-familiar boundaries between agriculture and industry and field and laboratory, Finlay also identifies an era in which perceived boundaries between natural and synthetic came under review.

    Although synthetic rubber emerged from World War II as one solution, the issue of ever-diminishing natural resources and the question of how to meet twenty-first-century consumer, military, and business demands lingers today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4870-8
    Subjects: History, History of Science & Technology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    On the same day that theNew York Timesreported on page 6 that the Nazis had slain seven hundred thousand Polish Jews, a different headline appeared above the fold of the front page: “Lehman Ends Tennis; Shoes to Rubber Pile.” As part of his commitment to respond to the U.S. rubber crisis, New York governor Herbert Lehman and his family had donated tennis shoes and other household items to the nation’s scrap-rubber drive.¹ As the juxtaposition of these stories demonstrates, no domestic issue generated more attention or caused more public anxiety in early 1942 than looming shortages of rubber....

  7. Chapter 1 The American Dependence on Imported Rubber: The Lessons of Revolution and War, 1911–1922
    (pp. 22-44)

    On 30 March 1911, a band of revolutionaries loyal to Francisco Madero attacked two sites that belonged to the Intercontinental Rubber Company (IRC), the American firm that dominated the guayule rubber industry of northern Mexico.¹ That night, rebels stole and destroyed merchandise, corn, and hay worth over $2,100; over the next several weeks, Madero loyalists made at least eight other raids on IRC property. In response, forces loyal to the Mexican government of Porfirio Díaz launched counterattacks that again cost the IRC several hundred dollars in damages. Then in May 1911, revolutionaries under the command of Emilio Madero, Francisco’s brother,...

  8. Chapter 2 Domestic Rubber Crops in an Era of Nationalism and Internationalism
    (pp. 45-73)

    In November 1922, eight days after British rubber producers announced a new plan to restrict rubber exports and raise rubber prices, an official in the U.S. Department of War fired off a memo to his colleagues that decried the British action as “one of the most violent economic wars” the country had ever faced.¹ The British rubber producers’ scheme, known as the Stevenson Plan, came to be one of the most significant issues in American foreign and trade policy of the mid-1920s. It also sparked another burst in the American search for a domestic rubber crop, for the episode demonstrated...

  9. Chapter 3 Thomas Edison and the Challenges of the New Rubber Crops
    (pp. 74-106)

    In February and March 1927, Thomas Edison leaked news to the press that he too had joined in the search for an American rubber crop. A series of reports traced Edison’s project, and most indicated there was “no doubt” that he could achieve a successful and viable solution. For his part, Edison asserted that he would “do my bit to see it through, if I have to work twenty-four hours a day until it is an accomplished fact.” These early reports suggested that Edison’s success hinged on cryptostegia, the imported and invasive vine that thrived in southern Florida. Although this...

  10. Chapter 4 The Nadir of Rubber Crop Research, 1928–1941
    (pp. 107-139)

    In the spring of 1930, U.S. Army major Dwight Eisenhower embarked on a monthlong expedition that took him from his Washington, DC, desk job through the IRC’s guayule operations in California, Texas, and Mexico. In his diary entries from that five-thousand-mile journey, Eisenhower described his encounters with seedy hotels, surly border guards, seemingly endless hot and dusty roads, and memorable “swarms” of Mexican women and children selling tortillas, tamales, and enchiladas.¹ Eisenhower’s diary also tells of his repeated meetings with IRC officials and his growing conviction that guayule had to be part of any plan for American war preparedness. The...

  11. Chapter 5 Crops in War: Rubber Plant Research on the Grand Scale
    (pp. 140-170)

    On sunday 7 December 1941, under the headline “U.S. Grows Own Latex,” theNew York Timespublished an extensive article that touted guayule as the crop that could make the nation independent of imported rubber.¹ The timing of this article was pure coincidence, as dozens of similar news stories had appeared in American newspapers and magazines from time to time over the previous two decades.² TheTimesstory hinted at the possibility of genuine rubber shortages linked to a war with Japan, and it implied that Congress should pass the Anderson bill that called for the planting of forty-five thousand...

  12. Chapter 6 Sustainable Rubber from Grain: The Gillette Committee and the Battles over Synthetic Rubber
    (pp. 171-197)

    The crisis intensified as it became clear how vital rubber was in modern warfare. Each Sherman tank—and the United States eventually produced 50,000 of them—required about a half a ton of rubber. Each of the nation’s 30,000 heavy bombers needed about a ton. Each battleship contained more than 20,000 rubber parts, totaling about 160,000 pounds on each ship. Americans produced 1.4 million rubber airplane tires in 1944 alone. American soldiers wore 45 million pairs of rubber boots, 77 million pairs of shoes with rubber soles, and 104 millions pairs of shoes with rubber heels. Every industrial facility contained...

  13. Chapter 7 Resistance to Domestic Rubber Crops and the Decline of the Emergency Rubber Project
    (pp. 198-225)

    As the rubber mess moved off the front pages in late 1942, political tensions began to subside. The assertive tone of the Baruch report, the manageable hardships of gasoline rationing, and the promise of synthetic-rubber successes assured most Americans that the rubber crisis would soon pass. Costly but steady successes on the battlefields offered further hope that the United States had begun to marshal the combination of scientific, industrial, and military might needed to ultimately succeed. In this milieu, the notion that agricultural productivity offered a key to geopolitical and industrial power faded from view, and few agricultural scientists and...

  14. Chapter 8 From Domestic Rubber Crops to Biotechnology
    (pp. 226-236)

    In 1934, alvin hansen, a leading New Deal economist, asked famed USDA plant explorer David Fairchild about the prospects of producing rubber in the United States. Fairchild’s response was probably not the direct answer that Hansen was seeking: “What do you mean by rubber? What is your idea of possibilities?Whenare you talking about? Tomorrow? Next week? Fifteen years hence?” He continued:

    If you could tell me what the price of rubber will be fifteen years from now; or if rubber and not something else will be used to cushion the tires of automobiles; or if flying will have...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 237-306)
  16. Index
    (pp. 307-318)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 319-319)