Launching the Synthetic Rubber Industry
became a precious commodity during World War II when imports of
natural rubber from the Far East were cut off. Indeed, natural rubber
became so rare in the United States that gasoline was rationed to
discourage people from driving cars (which, of course, ran on rubber
tires). Ultimately, the nation spent as much on its rubber program
as it did on the atomic bomb.
win the rubber battle in several ways. As the government purchased
any natural rubber it could find from South and Central America
and Africa, NIST set up a lab to test and grade these rubbers and
helped the Brazilian government organize its own lab to do the same.
The U.S. government
also organized a consortium to study synthetic rubbers and invested
in the construction of 15 production plants, which had to produce
rubber that met uniform specifications. Prewar NIST work on the
thermodynamics of rubber suggested which types of synthetics to
use and how to test them.
1943, the Institute helped standardize both physical and chemical
testing, resulting in a notable improvement in the accuracy of rubber
testing. NIST also helped develop tests (such as the use of freezing
points to determine material purity) and improve instruments (such
as the viscometer) later used in synthetic rubber plants.
U.S. synthetic rubber industry reports more than $4.5 billion in
annual shipments, and the nation exports substantial amounts of
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Early Smart Weapons Go to War
the Allies win World War II by assisting with numerous military
projects, most notably the design of two early smart
One was a fuse
that exploded a projectile when directly over its target, rather
than on impact, making the weapon five to 20 times more effective.
The radio proximity fuse designed by NIST was a tiny
radio transmitter and receiver about the size of a lightbulb, powered
by batteries or generators. Variations on the device were designed
for rockets, shells, and bombs. Hundreds of workers spent several
years perfecting the technology, first tested in early 1941.
The fuse, often
described as a leading technical advance of the wartime period,
was not released for general use until 1944. Mortar shell fuses
did not go into full production, but fuses for rockets and bombs
went into full production and were used extensively. The first major
combat use of the fuse was during the preinvasion bombardment of
Iwo Jima in 1945. Some 8.3 million fuses were produced.
NIST also helped
design and construct the Bat, the first fully automated guided missile
ever used successfully in combat. In addition to coordinating civilian
agencies work on the Bat, NIST worked out the aerodynamic
and stabilization characteristics of the 454 kilogram (1,000 pound)
missile, which emitted shortwave radiation and was guided by the
radar echoes of the enemy target. In addition to its self-guidance
capability, the Bat was known for its long range, high accuracy,
and high payload. It was used in the Pacific theater.
to World War II