United States Synthetic Rubber Program, 1939-1945

World War II Rubber Supply Crisis
Waldo L. Semon and other B.F. Goodrich scientists, 1940.President Franklin D. Roosevelt was well aware of U.S. vulnerability because of its dependence on threatened supplies of natural rubber, and in June 1940, he formed the Rubber Reserve Company (RRC). The RRC set objectives for stockpiling rubber, conserving the use of rubber in tires by setting speed limits, and collecting scrap rubber for reclamation.

The onset of World War II cut off U.S. access to 90 percent of the natural rubber supply. At this time, the United States had a stockpile of about one million tons of natural rubber, a consumption rate of about 600,000 tons per year, and no commercial process to produce a general purpose synthetic rubber. Conserving, reclaiming, and stockpiling activities could not fill the gap in rubber consumption.

After the loss of the natural rubber supply, the RRC called for an annual production of 400,000 tons of general purpose synthetic rubber to be manufactured by the four large rubber companies. On December 19, 1941, Jersey Standard, Firestone, Goodrich, Goodyear, and United States Rubber signed a patent-and-information-sharing agreement under the auspices of the RRC.

War plant workers with rubber life raft.The situation became even more critical as the need for rubber for the war effort increased. With stocks of rubber dwindling and conflicts arising over the best technical direction to follow, Roosevelt appointed a Rubber Survey Committee in August 1942 to investigate and make recommendations to solve the crisis. The committee, headed by financier Bernard M. Baruch, also included scientists James B. Conant, president of Harvard University, and Karl T. Compton, president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In the remarkably short time of one month, Baruch's committee made its recommendations, two of which were critical to solving the rubber crisis: the appointment of a rubber director who would have complete authority on the supply and use of rubber, and the immediate construction and operation of 51 plants to produce the monomers and polymers needed for the manufacture of synthetic rubber. William M. Jeffers, president of the Union Pacific Railroad, served as the first rubber director, with Bradley Dewey, president of Dewey and Almey, as deputy, and Lucius D. Tompkins, a vice president of United States Rubber Company, as assistant deputy.



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