Our next stop in the rubber expedition is Japan, and the year is 1941. Why are we here? We're here because one of the biggest drawbacks of owning something valuable is that someone else is always trying to steal it. That is the problem our rubber growers in southeast Asia are facing right now.
Rubber has come a long way since the days of Charles Goodyear. The world is completely dependent on it. Every machine from automobiles to radios has at least some rubber parts. In a lot of countries scientists are hard at work trying to come up with synthetic rubber. But in one industrialized country less healthy ways of securing a rubber supply are being plotted.
This plan not only secures Japan a rubber supply, but cuts off the supply of rubber to all its enemies. And Japan has lots of enemies by this point. Japan has attacked China, British and French colonies in southeast Asia, and Australia. And as if they don't have enough enemies, they attack the United States at Pearl Harbor, the day before invading Malaya: December 7, 1941.
This isn't a very smart thing to do, needless to say. Attacking a country with nearly unlimited natural resources, two large oceans protecting it, and a strong national desire to be left alone is never a winning proposition. But there is one natural resource the United States doesn't have. That is rubber of course, whose main sources the Japanese now control.
The quest for synthetic rubber began near the birthplace of natural rubber.
If you want to continue on into the future and see how the United States Government responds to the Japanese attack . . .
While Japanese armies are conquering southeast Asia, this is going on in the rest of the world:
1940: In the United States, Richard Wright publishes his novel Native Son, which offers a painful examination of racial attitudes and injustice.
1940: In Europe, German armies conquer France, while Britain resists a severe German air bombing campaign in a fight known as the Battle of Britain.
December 7, 1941: From Wonder Book of Rubber, 1947, copyrighted material of The BFGoodrich Company reproduced with the permission of The BFGoodrich Company.