As horrific as war is, it has historically spurred innovation and the invention of many useful gadgets that benefitted a peacetime citizenry. The Second World War was no exception. To replace embargoed natural rubber from Asia, the Crown corporation Polymer Corp was created. Based in Sarnia Ont., Polymer made history, mass-producing synthetic rubber to support the war effort.
After the war, Polymer embarked upon an advertising campaign to create “interest and confidence in the company and its products” and bolster public knowledge of the many uses of synthetic rubber, wrote Matthew J. Bellamy in Profiting the Crown: Canada’s Polymer Corporation, 1942-1990. As this Chemistry in Canada ad from 1962 shows, synthetic rubber could be used almost anywhere — on land or sea. Tires, non-scuff floor tiles, car seats, furniture, mattresses and even paints were made with artificial rubber. Such versatility is the result of polyisobutylene-based butyl rubber, which can be vulcanized or halogenated, making it impermeable to air and moisture. Such qualities make it the ideal material for such things as the inner lining of automobile tires or other modern applications such as the creation of small seals used to close vials of pharmaceutical solutions. Butyl rubber is even used as a base for chewing gum.
During the 1970s, Polymer was sold to the Canadian Development Corporation, which was partly owned by the federal government. Renamed Polysar, the company continued to manufacture rubber through its subsidiary, Polysar Rubber Corp. In the 1980s, Polysar was sold to NOVA Corp. NOVA later sold the subsidiary, Polysar Rubber, in 1990 to Germany’s Bayer AG. In 2005, Bayer AG created several Sarnia-based chemical divisions, including LANXESS AG. Today, LANXESS is a leading manufacturer of rubber polymers and has two plants: one in Sarnia and the other in Zwijndrecht, Belgium. In 2011, LANXESS opened a new research and development centre at the University of Western Ontario Research Park in London, Ont., where it continues to generate product applications to meet the growing demand for high-quality rubber products in emerging markets like China.
A long journey indeed — and one where it can truly be said the rubber hit the road.