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The Dow's Synthetic Bounce

Alex Planes
November 2, 2012

On this day in economic and financial history...

The world is full of so many advanced technologies and synthetic chemicals that it's easy to take them for granted. During wartime, however, the presence of these luxuries is truly appreciated. It's thanks in no small part to an innovative new product, developed by DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) and revealed to the public on Nov. 2, 1931, that the American effort during World War II was never choked off for lack of rubber material.

DuPont's innovation was originally called "DuPrene" and is now more commonly known as neoprene. It was one of the first commercially successful synthetic rubbers ever produced, and today it's used around the world -- on the order of 300,000 tons per year.

Neoprene became especially useful during World War II after a Japanese invasion of Allied rubber-producing territories choked off natural rubber supplies shortly after Pearl Harbor. Strict rubber rationing came into force across the United States, and even President Roosevelt provided rubber for the war effort by volunteering his pet dog's chew toys for melting down and repurposing.

Although neoprene was not usable in tires, it became widely used for connecting parts across a variety of machines and weapons of war. Other synthetic rubbers were soon developed to fill the gaps neoprene couldn't cover. By the end of the war, neoprene and its synthetic cousins had contributed nearly a million tons of material to the construction of all range of tanks, ships, and equipment.

Many modern products make use of neoprene today. Consumers are likely to encounter it in protective coverings for their electronics. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) fans in search of cases and sleeves for their iPads and MacBooks will find no shortage of neoprene-based products to choose from. 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) and other industrially focused manufacturers also offer neoprene-based, high-performance adhesives. The mater