Rubber Matters: Solving the World War II Rubber Problem

Glossary and Bibliography

PEOPLE

Roger Adams (January 2, 1889–July 6, 1971) was an organic chemist renowned for both his chemistry and his work as an educator and a mentor of graduate students while at the University of Illinois, where he was head of the chemistry department from 1926 to 1954. During World War II, Adams was a member of the National Defense Research Committee.

Bernard Baruch (August 19, 1870–June 20, 1965) was a successful financier and businessman who became a presidential advisor, first under Woodrow Wilson. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Baruch to head the Rubber Survey Committee.

Karl T. Compton (September 14, 1887–June 22, 1954) was a prominent American physicist and the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1930 to 1948. He held various positions during wartime, including head of a division in the National Defense Research Committee, chair of the U.S. Radar Mission, and member of the Interim Committee, which advised President Harry S. Truman on the use of the atomic bomb.

James Bryant Conant (March 26, 1893–February 11, 1978) was a chemist before taking up the presidency of Harvard University in 1933. Conant was involved in numerous government science collaborations including chairing the National Research Defense Committee, participating in the Manhattan Project, and participating in the Rubber Survey Committee.

Peter Debye (March 24, 1884–November 2, 1966) was a Dutch physicist and physical chemist. After a prestigious research career at various European institutions, Debye left Germany in 1940 for Cornell University, where he became a professor and chaired the chemistry department. During World War II, Debye worked on synthetic rubber and used light-scattering techniques to determine the size and molecular weight of polymer molecules.

Paul Flory (June 19, 1910–September 9, 1985) was a polymer chemist who worked in both industry and academia and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1974. During World War II, Flory joined the Esso Laboratories of the Standard Oil Development Company and the Research Laboratory of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company to work on the synthetic rubber problem. Read more about the Paul J. Flory Papers >

Guy Gillette (February 3, 1879–March 3, 1973) was a U.S. Representative and Senator from Iowa. During wartime he was part of the “farm bloc” of senators that lobbied for the use of grain alcohol to create the butadiene necessary for synthetic rubber. Gillette chaired an agricultural committee to investigate the government’s handling of the synthetic-rubber “problem” and the benefits to an agriculture-based butadiene method.

William Jeffers (January 2, 1876–March 6, 1953), president of the Union Pacific Railroad from 1937 to 1946, a billion-dollar business by World War II, was named Rubber Director after publication of the Baruch Report in 1942.

Jesse Jones (April 5, 1874–June 1, 1956) was an entrepreneur and politician hailing from Texas. Jones’s political positions during World War II were numerous and powerful: he was U.S. Secretary of Commerce from 1940 to 1945, and headed the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and its subsidiaries, including the Rubber Reserve Corporation, from 1932 to 1945.

Hermann Staudinger (March 23, 1881–September 8, 1965) was a German chemist who conducted research on macromolecules and developed the modern polymer theory, which was not without controversy. Staudinger’s theories persevered because of collaborators like Herman Mark, and in 1953 Staudinger was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Theodore (The) Svedberg (August 30, 1884–25 February1971) was a Swedish chemist who won the 1926 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and gained international scientific fame for his research on colloid chemistry and macromolecules as well. He developed the ultracentrifuge in 1921 for his own studies, and his work helped prove that polymers could exist. In the 1920s Svedberg, with James Burton Nichols, first at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and then at his own university in Uppsala on the ultracentrifuge..

Lothar Weber (unknown–unknown) was a chemist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Boston India Rubber Laboratory. He was also the chair of the American Chemical Society Rubber Division from 1916 to 1918 and authored Chemistry of Rubber Manufacture.

Robert R. Williams (February 16, 1886–October 2, 1965) was a chemist known for being the first to synthesize thiamine (vitamin B1). During wartime Williams was the chemical director of Bell Laboratories and was one of the key leaders in the effort to coordinate and supervisor the research efforts of the Synthetic Rubber Program.

 

INSTITUTIONS

BASF (Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik) was founded in 1865 in Germany to produce chemicals necessary for soda and acids, but the company expanded its product line and ventured into the area of agricultural products with the purchase of the Haber-Bosch process for producing ammonia. BASF merged with five other companies to form I.G. Farben in 1925.

Bell Laboratories is a company that was created by a merger between Western Electric Research Laboratories and part of the American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) company in 1925. Although its primary focus was to design and support equipment used by both merger companies, Bell Laboratories scientists consulted for various companies and the U.S. government, and their research led to such developments as radio astronomy, electron diffraction, and the photovoltaic cell.

The B.F. Goodrich Company, now known as the Goodrich Corporation, was founded in Akron, Ohio, in 1870, and became one of the “big four” rubber companies in the United States. Scientists at Goodrich were very active in the prewar period, creating vinyl in the 1920s and a type of synthetic rubber in the 1930s. The company itself was also active in the prewar period, making various acquisitions of smaller companies.

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company was founded in 1802 and began as a gunpowder manufacturer. It developed into one of the largest chemical companies in the world. By World War II, DuPont had established itself as an industrial giant and pioneer in the world of polymer chemistry, having developed neoprene, nylon, and Teflon.

The Dow Chemical Company was founded in 1897 and at first sold only bleach and potassium bromide. The company soon diversified its product line and by the 1930s had become a major producer of products like agricultural chemicals, chlorine, dyestuffs, magnesium metal, and plastic resins. By World War II the company had created several plants dedicated to its magnesium business, which became vital to the war effort.

The Firestone Tire & Rubber Company was founded in 1900 in Akron, Ohio. During World War II, Firestone was one of the “big four” rubber companies.

Fisk Rubber Company was founded in 1899 by Harry George Fisk, his brother Noyes W. Fisk, and partners. Before the war Fisk was very active in rubber research and was one of the top rubber companies in the United States; Fisk was purchased by United States Rubber Company in 1939.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company was founded in 1898 in Akron, Ohio. Originally the company manufactured bicycle tires, but it soon expanded. By World War II, Goodyear, as one of the “big four” rubber companies, had built synthetic-rubber plants in Akron, California, and Texas.

I.G. Farben was founded in 1925. This company was the giant in the German chemical industry conglomerate comprising BASF, Hoechst, and Bayer, and other smaller companies. The conglomerate existed until 1951, when the Allied countries forced its dissolution. Before World War II, I.G. Farben had a partnership with Standard Oil of New Jersey.

JASCO, Inc., or the Joint American Study Company, was created in 1930 as a 50-50 joint venture between I.G. Farben and Standard Oil of New Jersey to develop “borderline processes” in the oil and chemical industries. JASCO work included synthetic-rubber research. In 1939 Standard Oil bought I.G. Farben’s share in JASCO, thus obtaining the patent rights to Buna-S synthetic rubber.

The Royal Dutch/Shell Group founded the American Gasoline Company in 1912, and in 1928 it formed the Shell Development Company to conduct chemical research on gasoline and petroleum by-products. Shell provided butadiene to aid in the synthetic-rubber effort during World War II.

Standard Oil of New Jersey was one of 34 companies created in 1911 by the federal government when it dissolved the Standard Oil Company monopoly. Standard Oil of New Jersey became the largest oil producer in the world and partnered with German industry giant I.G. Farben in the interwar period. During World War II the company was leaned on heavily by the United States for its petroleum-based processes and products.

United States Rubber Company was founded in 1892 and was one of the original 12 stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. By World War II this company had become one of the “big four” rubber companies, with its purchase of the Gillette Safety Tire Company and the success of its plants. In 1961 the company was renamed Uniroyal Inc.

University of Illinois was founded in 1867. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the largest in the University of Illinois system. During World War II the University of Illinois, led by Carl Marvel, was one of the main academic research sites of the synthetic-rubber program.

 

POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS/TERMS

The Baruch Report was the result of the Rubber Survey Committee headed by Bernard Baruch to determine in an unequivocal manner what synthetic rubber should be made from, how much the Unites States needed, and ways to conserve natural rubber.

The Gillette Committee was a subcommittee headed by Iowa “farm-bloc” Senator Guy Gillette to investigate the government’s handling of the synthetic-rubber situation: from stockpiling to contracts to using grain alcohol to create butadiene. Its hearings began in March 1942. While Gillette’s hope that the government would use grain alcohol did not come to fruition, the committee’s findings did prompt governmental action in August 1942, with the appointment of a Rubber Survey Committee.

National Defense Research Committee was a U.S. organization created at the onset of World War II to “coordinate, supervise, and conduct scientific research on the problems underlying the development, production, and use of mechanisms and devices of warfare.” It was superseded in 1941 by the Office of Scientific Research and Development, which was headed by Vannevar Bush, former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The organization oversaw research, including that on radar and the atomic bomb, and with government funding created various laboratories.

Reconstruction Finance Corporation was an independent government agency created by the Herbert Hoover administration in 1932. The agency gave billions of dollars in aid to state and local governments and made loans to various businesses and banks. During World War II this agency established eight new subsidiary corporations, including the Rubber Reserve Company, and authorized funding to these subsidiaries.

The Rubber Reserve Company (RRC) was a subsidiary of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation headed by Jesse Jones. Between 1940 and 1942 the RRC made little progress in either obtaining rubber or making plans for creating synthetic rubber.

The Rubber Survey Committee was created in 1942 by President Roosevelt and headed by Bernard Baruch to determine details vital to the success of the synthetic-rubber program. Other members included James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard University, and Karl T. Compton, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

War Production Board (WPB) was created on January 16, 1942, to procure and allocate the materials required for the war effort, including such items as rubber, gasoline, metal, and nylon. The WPB promoted the manufacture of rubber via the butadiene from petroleum process in opposition to the Gillette Committee.

 

TECHNICAL TERMS

Buna-N Structure

The Bergius process was first developed by Friedrich Bergius in 1913. It converts brown coal (lignite) into crude oil at high temperature and pressure; the process is also known as coal hydrogenation. Before World War II, Bergius sold his patent to BASF, which created several plants dedicated to the process.

Buna-S Structure

Buna-N, nitrile-butadiene rubber, or NBR is a synthetic rubber composed of repeating units of styrene and acrylonitrile monomers. The word Buna is a shortened form of butadiene + Natrium (sodium), which is used in the synthesis. The addition of acrylonitrile decreases the flexibility of the rubber but increases its resistance to oils and greases. NBR does not have one repeating unit; instead there are multiple types of NBR depending on the percentage of acrylonitrile present.

Buna-S, butadiene-styrene rubber, or SBR is a synthetic rubber composed of repeating units of styrene and butadiene monomers. The word Buna is a shortened form of butadiene + Natrium (sodium), which is used in the synthesis. It was initially developed by the Germans. The addition of styrene helps the rubber wear better over time.

Butadiene Structure

Butadiene, or 1,3-butadiene, is a monomer used in the production of many forms of synthetic rubber and other polymers. Butadiene can be manufactured from petroleum or grain alcohol.

Butyl Structure

Butyl is a four-carbon alkyl radical derived from either of the two isomers of butane. Often the use of the word butyl in the context of the World War II Synthetic Rubber Program referred to butyl rubber, a brand of synthetic rubber created by the polymerization of butylenes. Tire inner tubes were the first major use of butyl rubber because of its leakproof qualities.

Carbon black is a material created by incomplete combustion of heavy petroleum products, including various types of tar. A virtually pure elemental carbon in the form of colloidal particles, it is used as a pigment and reinforcement in rubber and other polymers.

Co-polymers are polymers made of more than one type of monomer subunit. Synthetic rubbers like those made from butadiene-styrene and nitrile-butadiene are common examples.

Cold rubber is produced at 41˚F (5˚C), unlike the GR-S rubber produced during World War II at 122˚F (50° C). After the war Carl Marvel and other rubber chemists traveled to Germany in an effort to better understand German rubber advances made in secret during wartime. One of these advances was a cold-rubber process. Later in the United States this process was further refined by combining cold-rubber polymerization and the redox polymerization processes.

Long ton is the standard industrial unit of measurement for rubber. A long ton weighs 2,240 pounds and is approximately 1.12 times as much as a short ton, which is 2,000 pounds. A metric ton (or tonne in the United Kingdom) is 2,205 pounds. Using the word ton can be confusing when the exact measurements are required.

GR-S, or Government Rubber plus Styrene, was the designation for general-purpose synthetic rubber created in World War II by the Americans. The rubber known as Buna-S was selected to become GR-S: butadiene-styrene rubber.

A monomer is a small molecule or atom that binds chemically to other monomers in long chains, which creates a polymer. In the case of synthetic polymers like rubber, this term refers to organic molecules.

Neoprene Structure

Neoprene, or polychloroprene, is a synthetic rubber first produced by DuPont in 1930 under the supervision of Wallace Hume Carothers. Neoprene rubber is resistant to oils and greases.

A polymer can be thought of as a chain that is made up of many links and that can be rigid or pliable. The earliest polymer science involved modifications of naturally occurring polymers. Vulcanization of rubber, invented by Charles Goodyear in the 19th century is the best example of this type of modification.

Redox polymerization is a method of low-temperature polymerization employing oxidation-reduction chemistry and often a hydroperoxide catalyst. This process was developed by the Germans during World War II, although there were Americans working on similar lines of research. The german process was discovered by a team of chemists and rubber-industry representatives headed by Carl Marvel during an investigation of German chemical-industry facilities after the war; when combined with cold-rubber research, the process created a better, more efficient synthetic rubber.

Stearic Acid Structure

Stearic acid is a long-chain fatty acid used in commercial synthetic-rubber syntheses. The addition of stearic acid during the compounding process for natural rubber became common in the 1920s after it was patented in 1921 by W. F. Russell of the Norwalk Tire and Rubber Company.

Styrene Structure

Styrene is a synthetic chemical in the form of a liquid that is derived from petroleum and natural-gas by-products. It is used in the manufacture of many plastics, including rubber; when combined with butadiene, it creates a rubber with good abrasion resistance and good aging stability, and is often blended with natural rubber and widely used in car tires.

Zinc oxide is an inorganic compound with the formula ZnO, which usually appears as a white powder. It is often used as an additive in numerous materials, including rubber. Zinc oxide, along with stearic acid, activates vulcanization and improves thermal conductivity.

 

ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWEES

Willard Asbury (December 16, 1900–April 27, 1986) was an executive vice president for Standard Oil of New Jersey Research and Engineering, who retired in 1965. He joined Standard Oil as a chemical engineer in the early 1930s, worked for the company in Germany and England, and participated in helping build synthetic-rubber plants during World War II.

William Baker (July 15, 1915–October 31, 2005) was a chemist at Bell Laboratories whose research was used in the Synthetic Rubber Project. Baker also contributed to the scientific planning at Bell Laboratories relative to the rubber project.

Arnold O. Beckman (April 10, 190 –May 18, 2004) was a chemist, inventor, industrialist, and philanthropist noted for his founding of Beckman Instruments and his funding of the first silicon transistor company.  One of Beckman Instruments’ early instruments was the Beckman IR-1, created specifically for the U.S. Synthetic Rubber Program.   

Albert M. Clifford (unknown–unknown) was an organic chemist who worked for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. Clifford was involved in synthetic work in the years before World War II and headed the Goodyear research for investigation of new monomers and emulsion polymerization techniques during wartime.

Calvin S. Fuller (May 25, 1902–October 28, 1994) was a physical chemist who spent his entire career at Bell Laboratories. Along with Robert Williams, Fuller headed efforts to recruit chemists for the Synthetic Rubber Program. After the war Fuller and two other colleagues invented the silicon solar cell.

A. Donald Green (October 24, 1905–April 26, 1988) was a chemical engineer for Standard Oil Company of New Jersey from 1930 to 1935 and Esso Research and Engineering Company from 1936 to 1954. Green designed the continuous process for the production of butyl rubber and assisted in building synthetic-rubber plants during World War II.

Paul S. Greer (November 28, 1904–June 11, 2006) was a chemical engineer whose work focused on the production of synthetic rubber. During World War II, Greer worked for the War Production Board and the Office of the Rubber Director, where he was chief of the Polymer Development Branch.

Oliver Hayden (August 20, 1893–August 13, 1991) was a chemist heavily involved in the rubber industry from his time at Fisk Rubber Company in the 1920s to his tenure at DuPont, where he remained until his retirement. While Hayden himself was not part of the rubber program, he visited Germany’s rubber-industry companies before the war to determine the feasibility of a swap of American neoprene technology and German butadiene. 

Izaak M. Kolthoff (February 11, 1894–March 4, 1993) was a prominent analytical chemist at the University of Minnesota from 1927 to 1993. During World War II, Kolthoff was an active participant in the synthetic-rubber problem and met with collaborators in industry and academia regularly in Akron, Ohio. Read more about the Izaak M. Kolthoff - Herbert A. Laitinen correspondence, 1937-1989 >

Herman F. Mark (May 3, 1895 - April 6, 1992) was an Austrian-American chemist who pioneered polymer science.  Mark directed a research laboratory at I.G. Farben before he fled Germany for Austria and, later, the United States.  While in the United States, Mark joined Brooklyn Polytechnic and established a polymer program. 

Carl “Speed” Marvel (September 11, 1894–January 4, 1988) was a polymer chemist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1920 to 1961 and then at the University of Arizona from 1961 to 1987, as well as a consultant with DuPont. His honors include the American Chemical Society’s Priestley Medal and the National Medal of Science. During World War II, Marvel worked on the synthetic-rubber problem and headed the efforts of the University of Illinois chemistry department. After the war he was part of the American Technical Information Committee that investigated German chemical advances made during the war. For his work on synthetic rubber Marvel was awarded the President's Certificate of Merit for Civilians in World War II. Read more about the Carl S. Marvel Papers >

James Burton Nichols (February 25, 1902–July 14, 1995) worked with The Svedberg first at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and then at Uppsala University on the ultracentrifuge.  During World War II, Svedberg was involved in synthetic-rubber research in Sweden.

Jack B. St. Clair (August 17, 1919–) is a chemical engineer and was a longtime employee of Shell Oil Company. During World War II, he worked in sulfuric-acid alkylation and toluene extraction plants.

Waldo L. Semon (September 10, 1898 – May 26, 1999) was a chemist and inventor noted for his invention of vinyl and hundreds of other patents while at B.F. Goodrich Company. During World War II Semon  and B.F. Goodrich were responsible for nitrile rubber production for the  United States.

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