Biography and History

World War II had many rippling effects throughout the world during and after the war. The dual occurrence of an increased need for synthetic rubber during the war and the threat of being cut off from present suppliers sent the United States in search of new and more stable sources of rubber. No longer could the United States completely depend on foreign countries to provide rubber. For instance, the Asian supply was suffering from a leaf blight which drove up prices and the Japanese supply was limited due to political tensions. Consequently, the formation of the Rubber Development Corporation (RDC) attempted to meet this need, but without much success.

The RDC evolved out of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) which had three functions. First, low interest loans were given to banks, businesses and industries in an attempt to stabilize a faltering economy. Second, the RFC financed the newly formed Rubber Reserve Company (RRC) which bought rubber from Southeast Asia and tried to develop synthetic rubber in the United States. Third, the RFC supported the Rubber Development Corporation (RDC) which wanted to maximize rubber production from Brazil.

Eventually, the RDC was divided into three sections under the supervision of its president, Douglas H. Allen. The Banco de Credito da Borracha financed production costs and purchased the products of the RDC. The SEMTA division dealt with labor acquisition and transportation to the Amazon. Once in the Brazil area, the SAVA ( Services de Abasteciment do Vale Amazonico) division distributed the labor in order to maintain balanced and well-equipped posts.

The United States held two common interests in Brazil. An experimental nursery was set up in Brazil on the grounds of the Agronomic Institute of the North (IAN) under the supervision of Dr. Felisberto Cardoso de Camargo. This was an attempt to gain extensive knowledge about synthetic rubber production. Also, the Hevea trees in the Amazon Valley attracted the interest of the United States which eventually led to a rubber agreement on March 3, 1942 between Brazil and the United States. The initial rubber agreement guaranteed that the United States would buy all excess rubber at forty-five cents a pound until December 31, 1946. This allowed Brazil to produce rubber at an unlimited rate without the threat of monetary loss. Ten months later in December, the agreement was modified to increase Brazil's exportation to 50,000 tons of rubber in 1943.

The presence of the RDC is still felt in Brazil. Many families mourn for the seventeen to twenty thousand tappers who never returned from the forest because primitive and dangerous conditions such as the ever present threat of illness and Indian attacks were not favorable to the workers. However, many braved these conditions because the RDC was paying top dollar to ensure high production and favorable results. Before the RDC arrived in Brazil, tappers or seringueiros were managed by seringalistas in small groves. Today, the majority of tappers who did survive the forest are not receiving pensions due to lost paper work.

As shown above, time, effort, and money were seriously invested into this project, but a lack of efficiency eventually lead to the failure of RDC, Amazon Division. At one point, RDC purchased a crop of Brazilian nuts in the hopes that it would incite Brazilian workers to produce more rubber as well as satisfy eager American buyers. While the connection between nuts and rubber production is blurry, the purchase would definitely meet the American demand for nuts. For one million dollars, the nuts were purchased. However, transportation of the nuts to America was not provided for. The nuts spoiled and the RDC suffered a net loss of $800,000. The only sign of a slight improvement was in 1946 when production increased, but the quality of the rubber remained pathetically poor. While the intentions behind this venture were sincere, the execution of the project failed to meet with its high expectations. Eventually, the company dissolved and the United States continued its search for rubber elsewhere.

Source: From the finding aid for MC117

  • Rubber Development Corporation, Amazon Division Records. 1942-1945 (inclusive).

    Call Number: MC117

    The Rubber Development Corporation, Amazon Division Records (1942-1945) reflect Philip H. Williams' interests and concerns as manager of the Manaos Office in Brazil. As manager, Williams was called upon to play various roles including diplomat, manager and administrator. His fellow staff members were C. Homer McDuff–Acting General Manager, Mr. Swain–Accounting Department, H. A. Beck–Acting Manager, Manaos Office, George A. Seaman–Assistant to Mr. Williams, John Herman Neumann–Manager of Amazon Division and Douglas H. Allen–President of the Rubber Development Corporation. The bulk of this collection consists of copies from William's personal files. The majority of the collection is composed of correspondence, memoranda, reports, charts, photographs and newspaper clippings.