History in the Making

Document Type



Rubber has been one of humanity’s most vital resources for hundreds of years. World War II was a pivotal event in the history of rubber that permanently altered the industry forever. Prior to World War II, the majority of the rubber in the United States came from foreign rubber plantations. The United States’ reliance on foreign rubber led to a crisis in the early twentieth century. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese forces in Southeast Asia captured ninety percent of the United States’ natural rubber supply. This was a monumental event as rubber was not only needed by the booming United States’ automobile industry to make tires, but also by the military to produce gas masks, bombers, and tanks. This historic event effectively cut the United States and its allies off from a vital commodity that was essential in order for the Allied Powers (United Kingdom, United States, Soviet Union, and China, among others) to win the war. In unprecedented times, the United States developed a synthetic alternative to natural rubber that was far more efficient. The United States’ response to the World War II rubber crisis would ultimately determine the fate of World War II and the Allies’ victory over the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan). Furthermore, World War II led to the development of synthetic rubber, which is still widely used today. This article will examine the history of synthetic rubber, a war-born material, and its significance in World War II.