JESSE JONES ON WARTIME PRODUCTION OF SYNTHETIC RUBBER
[One of the greatest economic challenges faced by the nation in wartime
was assuring an adequate supply of rubber.
In his memoirs Jesse Jones,
The American rubber program, which produced more than 700,000 tons in 1944, was operating at a rate in excess of 1,000,000 tons a year when the war ended. Compare those figures with the accomplishments of the Germans. Prior to the war the Germans were generally conceded to possess greater knowledge of synthetic rubber production than any other people. During the war their supplies of natural rubber were so extremely limited that they had to rely almost entirely upon their synthetic production. When their records became available after the surrender, we learned that their annual production never rose above 109,173 tons, that peak having been reached in 1943.
We handled the rubber situation, both natural and synthetic, in a businesslike way and got results. As a contribution to winning the war, our accomplishments in less than two years in the rubber field will stand comparison with those of any other industry. At the start we did not have the knowledge, but we went out to get it, and did, just as we did in many other fields....
Altogether, fifty-one government-owned plants were designed, constructed, and put in operation. In carrying out the program, forty-nine rubber, chemical, petroleum, and other industrial companies participated under the supervision of Rubber Reserve Company....
Our investment in these plants approximated $700,000,000. When the program really got going, expenditures for materials, utilities, services, etc., ran around $2,000,000 per day. All these plants were constructed under the auspices of … [the] Defense Plant Corporation, which leased them to the various operating companies at a nominal rental of one dollar per year. Nearly all of them were operated on a cost-plus-management-charge basis.
Since alcohol and petroleum were the principal feeder bases,
the plants were built convenient to the sources of those raw materials.
Twenty-one plants were in the east central states, twenty-three in the Southwest,
However, the whole net operating deficit of the plants up to December, 1948, had amounted to only $33,481,000.... The big loss--nearly $250,000,000--was for depreciation of the plants. Yet that was a very small price to pay for synthetic rubber's contribution to the victory and its guarantee that our country shall never again be wholly dependent on distant sources for its supply of such an essential article.
During the war the whole huge enterprise was administered by Rubber Reserve Company with a personnel of fewer than 300 directly assigned employees. On V-J Day there were about 24,000 employees engaged in operating the plants. Although they were working with new processes and sometimes with strange materials and machinery, they were credited by the Department of Labor in the last year of the war with the third best accident prevention record in the nation.