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Growing American Rubber

Strategic Plants and the Politics of National Security

Mark R. Finlay

Publication Year: 2009

Growing American Rubber explores 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. 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 modern-day demands linger today.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Studies in Modern Science, Technology, and the Environment


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pp. v


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

I would like to acknowledge the many scholars, colleagues, archivists, and friends who have helped make this book possible. Its origins may lie with Alan Marcus, then at Iowa State University, who first introduced me to the rather obscure ideology of “chemurgy,” whose proponents proclaimed that agricultural products were essential both as raw materials for industrial production and to the politics of national security. ...

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pp. 1-21

On the same day that the New York Times reported 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 ...

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Chapter 1: The American Dependence on Imported Rubber: The Lessons of Revolution and War, 1911–1922

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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 ...

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Chapter 2: Domestic Rubber Crops in an Era of Nationalism and Internationalism

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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 ...

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Chapter 3: Thomas Edison and the Challenges of the New Rubber Crops

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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.” ...

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Chapter 4: The Nadir of Rubber Crop Research, 1928–1941

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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 ...

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Chapter 5: Crops in War: Rubber Plant Research on the Grand Scale

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pp. 140-170

On Sunday 7 December 1941, under the headline “U.S. Grows Own Latex,” the New York Times published 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 ...

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Chapter 6: Sustainable Rubber from Grain: The Gillette Committee and the Battles over Synthetic Rubber

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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 ...

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Chapter 7: Resistance to Domestic Rubber Crops and the Decline of the Emergency Rubber Project

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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 ...

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Chapter 8: From Domestic Rubber Crops to Biotechnology

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pp. 226-235

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? When are you talking about? Tomorrow? Next week? Fifteen years ...


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pp. 237-306


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pp. 307-317

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About the Author

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Mark R. Finlay is a professor of history ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813548708
E-ISBN-10: 0813548705
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813544830
Print-ISBN-10: 0813544831

Page Count: 360
Illustrations: 24 illustrations
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Studies in Modern Science, Technology, and the Environment