March 31, 1943: The First Buna-S Synthetic Rubber Shipped at Institute

Synthetic rubber production at Institute

On March 31, 1943, the first Buna-S synthetic rubber was shipped from Union Carbide’s plant at Institute in Kanawha County. It was a significant development in our nation’s fight against the Axis powers during World War II.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japan had cut off America’s access to 90 percent of the world’s natural rubber supply. Fortunately, the federal government had anticipated this development and asked the chemical giant Union Carbide to develop methods for producing butadiene and styrene, which could be used to make synthetic rubber. Carbide quickly perfected the process and built the plant at Institute.

Institute became the largest government synthetic rubber plant and the only one whose production was totally integrated—from ethyl alcohol to the final product. During World War II, the Institute plant produced 60 percent of the Buna-S synthetic rubber made from ethyl alcohol in the United States.

After the war, the government discontinued the synthetic rubber program, and the plant was shut down. Union Carbide purchased the facilities and began a massive conversion to produce other chemicals and add new facilities at Institute.