-More than just Camping Buddies-
In previous blogs we talked about the camping buddies [a.k.a. The Vagabonds] Edison, Ford and Firestone. [See http://www.edisonmuckers.org/thomas-edison-and-the-vagabonds/ ; and http://www.edisonmuckers.org/on-the-road-again/ ] But they did more than just enjoy the wilds and bucolic scenery.
During WWI, the rubber men realized a cut-off of the imported national rubber supply could seriously impact their businesses, and in 1927 set-up the Edison Botanic Research Company. They combined to discover serious alternate sources of rubber.
In 1928, a well-equipped lab was built on the site of the Edison Ft. Myers home, with research begun in early 1929, largely by Edison and a small staff.
The project was seed-funded with $25,000 contributions from each of the rubber men. Using nearby plots of land to experiment upon, Edison researched and cultivated a wide variety of possible plant species that could be used to develop the alternate rubber.
Today, we would recognize Edison’s cultivation efforts as an application of biomass technology [check out an earlier piece we did on biomass http://www.edisonmuckers.org/inventions-thomas-edison-would-love-biomass-conversion/]. There was talk among the rubber men of establishing biomass farms of promising plant species that might be grown in Florida and Georgia.
After testing more than 17,000 plant samples, Edison selected Goldenrod as the most suitable, developing a 12 foot tall strain of the common plant that yielded 12% latex [normally, the plant would only grow 3-4 feet tall with a 5% yield of latex].
Edison worked at both the Ft. Myers lab and at his chemistry lab at West Orange up to his death in October 1931. Thereafter, his brother-in-law John Miller led the research operation; but in1936, Ford, Firestone, and Mina Edison dissolved the Edison Botanic Research Company as they could not make artificial rubber production economic.
According to the website https://www.edisonfordwinterestates.org/what-to-see/laboratory/ , in 2014, the American Chemical Society designated the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory as a National Historic Chemical Landmark. The lab is the only site in the state of Florida to receive this title and is a true national treasure!