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DuPont Performance Elastomers, L.L.C. Louisville Works records

1930-1991
 Collection
Identifier: 2425

Abstract

Records, mostly employee newspapers, relating to the history and operation of DuPont's Louisville Works, which was established in 1941 for the manufacture of "Neoprene" artificial rubber.

Dates

  • 1930-1991

Creator

Extent

5.5 Linear Feet

Historical Note

'Elastomer' is a portmanteau of elastic polymer, a term encompassing a wide variety of synthetic and natural rubbers used for everything from sealing to adhesives to flexible parts. Cries for affordable synthetic elastomers grew to new heights after World War I, when natural rubber’s limitations in quantity, accessibility, and quality had become abundantly clear even as demand increased with the growth of the automobile industry. In 1930-31, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company chemists, led by Elmer K. Bolton (1886-1968)first developed an artificial rubber. A crucial breakthrough came when Dr. Arnold M. Collins (1899-1982) isolated chlorophene and 2-chloro-1, 3-butadiene in 1930. DuPont began the manufacture of its first artificial rubber, trademarked “DuPrene,” in September 1931. On December 11, 1936, it was renamed “neoprene,” a term to be used generically. Neoprene and other artificial rubbers were successively produced by the Organic Chemicals Department, the Elastomer Chemicals Department, and the Polymer Products Department, which was restyled DuPont Polymers in 1990. In 1994, DuPont and the Dow Chemical Company combined their operations in a 50/50 joint venture, DuPont Dow Elastomers, L.L.C. The partnership was dissolved subsequent to 2001, and as of 2016, Neoprene is produced by DuPont Performance Elastomers, L.L.C., and its international affiliates.

With the start of World War II, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company built a plant for manufacturing neoprene in Louisville, breaking ground in 1941. In 1942, the U.S. government purchased the plant for the war effort while leaving DuPont in charge; the Axis powers controlled almost all of the world’s natural rubber supply. The Louisville Works was resold to DuPont in 1948. In 1953, the plant celebrated the one billionth pound of neoprene produced. The DuPont neoprene plant at midcentury encompassed nearly 136 acres on the Ohio River, plus extensive well fields. The plant became the heart of what is today known as “Rubbertown,” an industrial district in Louisville. Over the course of the late fifties, DuPont expanded the plant’s operations by adding a Freon-22 manufacturing block (1955) and a vinyl fluoride manufacturing block.

Beginning in the 1960s, there have been tensions between the municipality and the corporations who operate in Rubbertown over environmental and safety issues. On August 26, 1965, there was a notable explosion at the DuPont plant; 12 dead and 37 casualties made it the worst industrial accident in Louisville’s history. In 1969, yet another explosion injured six more workers. Freon manufacture was phased out by 1992 in an effort to stop chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) production, due to concerns about its deleterious effect on the ozone layer. In 1998, after the acquisition of Protein Technologies international, the Louisville Plant also began the manufacture of concentrated soy protein for industrial use. In 2008, DuPont Performance Elastomers shut down their Louisville Plant and concentrated production at a sister plant in Louisiana.

Scope and Content

Nearly 80% of the Dupont Performance Elastomers, LLC records consists of employee newsletters for the DuPont elastomers plant in Louisville, Kentucky. There were several iterations of the newspaper: The Safe Worker was a short-lived wartime publication with two issues, December 1943 and January 1944. The Rubber Bawl, published by the Safety Department, ran monthly from February 1944 to July 1949. Each issue was a magazine-style format on unglossy paper, with columns submitted from each department. However, there were also regular features explaining the science of neoprene production, updates on the employee sports leagues, and lots of advice for maintaining safety both at home and in the workplace. Along with other transitions as DuPont took ownership of the plant once more, the Bawl was reinvented as an employee newspaper entitled The Louisville Works News starting September 1949. Columns for each department disappeared, photographs increased, and issues came out biweekly. Although no longer credited as a publication of the Safety Department, an emphasis on safety, worker accident rates, and injury prevention predominated, punctuated by historical lessons about the Dupont company. In October 1961, publication rates dropped from biweekly to monthly, presumably as a cost-saving measure. The writing becomes more professionalized and greater emphasis is put on employee picnics, Christmas gatherings, sports, and individual accomplishments outside the plant. In January 1971, to reduce costs that were creeping near $1.00 per copy to produce, the Louisville Works News shrunk further to a double-sided single sheet newsletter, rather than multipage newspaper, still produced monthly. Beginning in August 1976, the Works News expanded slightly to a letter-size multipage pamphlet on matte paper, switching to glossy color printing in summer of 1984. The last issue in the records dates to August 1991.

While the employee news publications give varying degrees of insight into actual employee experiences and perspectives, depending on the iteration of the publication, the other historical materials are almost entirely top-down corporate level materials or formal publications. The exception to this is a file of materials collected by employee and plant guard staff William Smith, who commenced employment with the opening of the plant in 1941, and retired in January 1975. He was an avid member of the Dupont 25-Year Club, collecting minutes and other materials from them, and also accumulated copies of union agreements with the company over the period of his employment. There is a cluster of materials pertaining to the plant’s founding, site selection, and funding, as well as some touching on the early development of neoprene industrial production. As the decades roll on, the collection’s strengths lie mainly in Public Relations efforts, including anniversary and billion-pound-produced celebrations, as well as environmental and safety debacles, most notably the 1965 explosion.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Related Material

DuPont Performance Elastomers, LLC historical files on Neoprene (Accession 2436), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library. http://findingaids.hagley.org/xtf/view?docId=ead/2436.xml

Louisville Industrial Foundation Records, 1916-1986. Held by the Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Kentucky. http://filsonhistorical.org/research-doc/louisvilleindustrialfoundation/

Rubber Division Library, American Chemical Society, Akron, Ohio. Contact the Science Librarian, Chuck Brady, at cbrady@rubber.org. or 330-972-7197. http://www.rubber.org/research-services (current August 2016)

Synthetic Rubber Research Reports, 1942-1955. University of Illinois Archives, Urbana Champagne. http://archives.library.illinois.edu/archon/?p=collections/controlcard&id=3783

Technical Reports and Standards, Synthetic Rubber Project, at the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/trs/trschemical_rubber.html#collection

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Additional Description

Provenance

Donated by Dupont Performance Elastomers LLC to Hagley, June 26, 2008.

File Plan

The first box of the collection houses exclusively materials that are not company newsletters. The materials were sorted by subject matter into folders, and then arranged in alphabetical order. The materials within each folder are in chronological order. The employee newsletters are arranged in increasing order by date printed, progressing through the next four boxes. The exception is that the final years of the employee newsletter (1971-1991) are stored in the first box with the earliest newsletters (1943-1949), due to space and size considerations. The final box also houses two folders of oversized material, in addition to employee newsletters.

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
DuPont Performance Elastomers, L.L.C. Louisville Works records
Status:
Author:
Anastasia Day
Date:
2016
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400