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"Just Get It Done"
Synthetic Rubber in Institute

By Warren Woomer

General Edward Greer
Aerial view of the expansive Buna-S rubber plant in Institute, Kanawha County. The immense complex was built in 10 months, an impressive accomplishment that normally would have taken as long as 10 years. Photograph 1945, courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives, Richard Andre Collection.

By 1943, Japan had already captured 90% of the natural rubber supply sources. Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation (C&CCC) and U.S. Rubber Company (USR) undertook and completed one of the most challenging programs in support of the World War II war effort at a new plant located in Institute, Kanawha County.

In August 1940, C&CCC was asked to aggressively pursue investigations into the large-scale manufacture of the chemicals butadiene and styrene, the basis for synthetic rubber. Within six months, C&CCC had perfected a practical process, as well as advanced designs for equipment, to convert ethyl alcohol into butadiene. USR, one of the leading American rubber companies, was also working around the clock to determine how to turn those chemicals into Buna-S Rubber; they also succeeded in their endeavors. For both companies it was a chemical process that had never been built or actually tried outside the laboratory.

In August 1941, the federal government authorized C&CCC and USR to build a plant for the Defense Plant Corporation to make synthetic rubber. They chose a site where was there enough flat land to build a large chemical plant with railroad and barge access - right in the middle of the main runway of Wertz Field, Charleston’s only commercial airport.

 Construction at the Institute site started in April 1942. Normally this effort would take 10 years. With dedication and the amazing effort of the personnel assigned to this project, however, actual facility construction and chemical production were achieved less than 10 months after ground breaking. The more than 6,500 employees of C&CCC; USR; Blaw-Knox Construction Company; Ford, Bacon & Davis Company; and the local support groups took great pride in how they responded to such a demanding challenge.

The shortage of gasoline, meat rationing, and other factors did not deter the people from getting to work and doing their jobs. Car pools and rattletrap buses called "cattle buses" were the ways to get to work. The theme of the day was "Just get it done." War bond drives were held using payroll deductions, money was given to the Red Cross, and blood drives were held to send blood for wounded service men. Wages were 75 cents to $1.20 per hour.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.