Rubber: War

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It bounces, it stretches, it keeps your feet dry in the rain. And it just might have meant the difference between winning and losing World War II. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont. By 1940, almost all the world’s rubber came from British plantations in Southeast Asia. This proved to be unfortunate for the Allies. Ethnobotanist Wade Davis is author of the book, One River.

“Within six weeks of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had taken all of Southeast Asia, including all of the world’s rubber supply. It was an extraordinary crisis. President Roosevelt was told that the nation had a six-month supply of rubber. After that, the capacity to wage war would come to an end.”

Tires, valves, seals, hoses, insulators were all made of rubber – and were indispensable to the war effort. A single battleship, for example, had more than twenty thousand rubber parts. Americans responded to the rubber shortage by recycling their rubber products and scientists began trying to develop a synthetic rubber. Henry Ford started a new rubber plantation in South America.

“He established, on a land grant the size of Connecticut, a place called Fordlandia. They planted literally millions of saplings, and everything seemed fine until the saplings grew to a certain height, and then all hell broke loose.”

A leaf blight killed all but a handful of Fordlandia’s hardiest trees. Scientists were then dispatched to the Amazon as “plant explorers” to try to find more of these disease-resistant plants. The plants were found, and were used to start new American rubber plantations in Costa Rica. But in the 1950’s, U.S. officials decided to destroy those plantations and rely on the newly developed synthetic rubber. But there was something that they hadn’t foreseen.

“And that was the development of the radial tire.”

We’ll hear more about it in our next program. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation.

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Rubber: War

It bounces, stretches and keeps your feet dry in the rain. And it may well have meant the difference between winning and losing World War II.
Air Date:09/20/2000
Scientist:
Transcript:

music


It bounces, it stretches, it keeps your feet dry in the rain. And it just might have meant the difference between winning and losing World War II. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont. By 1940, almost all the world's rubber came from British plantations in Southeast Asia. This proved to be unfortunate for the Allies. Ethnobotanist Wade Davis is author of the book, One River.

"Within six weeks of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had taken all of Southeast Asia, including all of the world's rubber supply. It was an extraordinary crisis. President Roosevelt was told that the nation had a six-month supply of rubber. After that, the capacity to wage war would come to an end."

Tires, valves, seals, hoses, insulators were all made of rubber - and were indispensable to the war effort. A single battleship, for example, had more than twenty thousand rubber parts. Americans responded to the rubber shortage by recycling their rubber products and scientists began trying to develop a synthetic rubber. Henry Ford started a new rubber plantation in South America.

"He established, on a land grant the size of Connecticut, a place called Fordlandia. They planted literally millions of saplings, and everything seemed fine until the saplings grew to a certain height, and then all hell broke loose."

A leaf blight killed all but a handful of Fordlandia's hardiest trees. Scientists were then dispatched to the Amazon as "plant explorers" to try to find more of these disease-resistant plants. The plants were found, and were used to start new American rubber plantations in Costa Rica. But in the 1950's, U.S. officials decided to destroy those plantations and rely on the newly developed synthetic rubber. But there was something that they hadn't foreseen.

"And that was the development of the radial tire."

We'll hear more about it in our next program. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation.

music