Synthetic Rubber Manufacture

By: Will H. Shearon, Jr.

Type: Overview Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: April 27, 2019

The synthetic rubber industry was established in Texas during World War II and developed so rapidly that by 1950 production amounted to more than 50 percent of a United States total of between 4,000 and 5,000 long tons annually. Among the most important factors in the decision to locate a large portion of the nation's plants in Texas were the state's concentration of natural gas and petroleum resources, its high degree of development of deepwater and inland waterway transportation, and the Texas Gulf Coast labor market. The major portion of synthetic rubber production during the war and thereafter was for Buna-S, a copolymer rubber made from butadiene and styrene, both products from petroleum sources. All of the synthetic rubber plants built during the war were government owned but were operated on a management-fee basis by private industry. After the war a few of these plants were sold, and others were maintained in standby condition in keeping with the Rubber Act, which required plants producing 200,000 long tons annually of general-purpose rubber and 21,667 tons of special-purpose rubber to be kept in operating status, and those producing 600,000 tons of general-purpose and 65,000 tons of special-purpose to be kept in standby condition. Expiration of the Rubber Act in June 1950 had a decided effect on the industry. The five original copolymer plants in Texas were U.S. Rubber, B. F. Goodrich (both at Port Neches), Phillips Petroleum (Borger), General Tire and Rubber (Baytown), and Goodyear Synthetic Rubber (Houston). The plant at Borger had been operated by B. F. Goodrich Company and U.S. Rubber before Phillips Petroleum acquired it in mid-1950. The operating capacity of each plant varied according to stockpiling needs and the current price and availability of natural rubber.

The outstanding development in copolymer rubber after the war was the development of so-called "cold" rubber, manufactured at 41° F to produce a product superior to that manufactured at the conventional 122°. As a result of this development, extensive changes in equipment were made at all plants. In 1950 half of the rated plant capacity of the Goodrich and Goodyear plants was in cold rubber, while the U.S. Rubber and General plants devoted their entire production to cold rubber. Production from these plants in 1949 was 75 percent of the nation's cold rubber total. The latter three plants were also the only plants in the country that manufactured so-called "carbon black rubber," in which carbon black was incorporated directly into the latex rather than being milled into the finished rubber.

Although a small portion of the nation's butadiene has been produced from alcohol, all Texas butadiene has been petroleum-derived. Postwar butadiene plants in Texas included Humble Oil and Refining (Baytown), Neches Butane Products (Port Neches), Sinclair Rubber (Houston), and Phillips Petroleum Company (Borger). Postwar styrene plants included Dow Chemical Company (Freeport) and Monsanto (Texas City). Styrene is important in plastics as well as synthetic rubber. The plant at Texas City was destroyed in the Texas City Disaster of April 1947 but was subsequently rebuilt by Monsanto. An additional type of synthetic rubber, butyl rubber, has been made in Texas. This special-purpose rubber is made at temperatures of 150° or more below zero from isobutylene and isoprene, both petroleum-derived. In postwar Texas, Humble Oil and Refining Company (now Exxon) manufactured butyl rubber at Baytown. The carbon black industry of the state has been closely and directly related to the rubber industry, and its expansion has paralleled that of synthetic rubber. More than 90 percent of the nation's carbon black has been used in rubber production. By 1970, Texas led the nation's production. Another compound used in making Buna-S rubber was the petroleum-derived mercaptan produced by Phillips Chemical Company at Borger.

The synthetic rubber industry of Texas attracted numerous rubber fabricators to the area, including the Wright Manufacturing Company, which established a large rubber-tile factory in Houston that used the Houston Goodyear plant as its main source of rubber supply. Between 1960 and 1966 Texas exports of rubber and plastic products grew from $2.9 million to $3.3 million, and by 1973, 80 percent of the nation's synthetic rubber originated in the state. Value added by rubber manufacture in 1973 was $59.4 million. By 1976 the value added by manufacture of fabricated rubber products was $33.2 million, and three-fourths of the nation's butadiene was produced on the Texas Gulf Coast. Between 1970 and 1990 workers employed in the rubber and plastic-products industries grew from just over 11,000 to almost 40,000, and manufacturing establishments from 190 to 780. See also OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY, PETROCHEMICAL INDUSTRY.

U.S. Bureau of Mines, Minerals Yearbook.

  • Oil and Gas Industry

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Will H. Shearon, Jr., “Synthetic Rubber Manufacture,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 27, 2019