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Rubber Matters: Solving the World War II Rubber Problem 

Billy Evans turns in some old rubber to the Atlantic filling station of L. E. Wadman, 1603 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington, DE.  June 15, 1942. Image courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives.

Billy Evans turns in some old rubber to the Atlantic filling station of L. E. Wadman, 1603 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington, DE.  June 15, 1942. Image courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives.

We here in the Oral History Program are quite fortunate: we get to spend every day creating history. We work with each interviewee to document her or his own personal perspective on the scientific life, preserving for us and others the instantiation of new knowledge, new techniques, and new technologies—transforming the seemingly mundane (scientists often do not realize how interesting their lives really are) into the momentous and exciting events of the scientific craft and its practices. In our pursuit of creating new histories and hearing new stories about science, however, we sometimes lose sight of what others have done before us and let dust continue to collect on the sparkling gems, still unearthed, buried in our collections.

Over the past year we, under the guidance and management of Sarah Hunter, dug through our vast collections, sorting through thirty years of work and hundreds of interviews, to reveal a rich and detailed history we at CHF had no idea we collected: the story of the development of synthetic rubber in the United States. Rubber Matters recounts the history—the trials and tribulations, the successes and failures—of America’s attempt to address the rubber needs of the armed forces during World War II. From shoes to tires and gas masks to gaskets, rubber was a central component of every aspect of the war effort and allowed the United States to wage war on all of its fronts. The story of rubber, though overshadowed by that of the Manhattan Project, is central to understanding truly science’s contribution to winning the war.

What is truly spectacular about this history is that one can not only read it, but also can experience it, hearing the words of the men who lived it. Throughout our online exhibit, readers are able to listen to our interviewees as they tell their stories with the passion and zeal they felt when conducting this critical work in support of American soldiers. Imperative to the war effort, the story surrounding synthetic rubber remains alive because of the oral histories.

Rubber Matters is the Oral History Program’s first foray into online exhibits.We hope you enjoy it.

Posted In: History

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