TLS signed “Thos A. Edison,” one page, 8.5 x 11, From the Laboratory of Thomas A. Edison letterhead, June 9, 1927. Letter to G. C. Blanks, in part, “I am engaged in an investigation looking toward the production of rubber in the United States from plants, bushes, shrubs, etc. which can be planted by acreage and harvested with reapers. To this end I desire to collect and examine as completely as possible the various species…which contain a rubber-bearing latex, and to accomplish this result I intend to engage several field men who have specialized in botany. The compensation would be one hundred dollars a month and expenses, and the field to be covered would be in Southern States up to as far north as New Jersey. The term for this work would be in the summer months. Mr. G. W. Carver of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute has suggested you as a person qualified to engage in this work, and therefore, I am writing to ask whether the prospect of such an undertaking is sufficiently alluring to you to induce you to take it up during the summer months.” In fine condition, with faint toning along intersecting folds. Accompanied by the original mailing envelope.
When he retired from his daily business activities in 1927, Thomas Edison launched his last major research program: the search for a domestic substitute for the rubber plant. The English, through colonial possessions in Asia where rubber trees flourished, had a nearly worldwide monopoly on this important material. When the British raised rubber prices in 1925, Edison and his friends, tire producer Harvey Firestone and automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, needed rubber to keep their products abundant and affordable. Ford and Firestone paid Edison more than $160,000 between 1927 and 1930 to work on the problem of creating abundant rubber. Working from his winter home in Fort Meyers, Florida, he began cultivating various kinds of plants that might be used to extract chemicals suitable for making rubber. By 1927 he was growing nine acres of these plants, and eventually he settled on just one: the Solidago, or goldenrod. This plant grew quickly, was easily harvested, and most importantly, provided a substance that could easily be converted to rubber.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.