A wise man once said that no matter where you are, particularly when you're on vacation, you can't escape stories about rubber.
Those words—written in this very space five months ago by RPN Editor Bruce Meyer—proved to be prophetic.
My wife and I left for a vacation in sunny Florida with our friends on Christmas Day. Let me tell you, there's nothing like eating Christmas dinner at a Sheetz gas station.
We stayed in Punta Gorda, a beautiful, quaint city off of the Gulf Coast of Florida. One of our friends has a keen awareness of Thomas Edison and his birthplace museum, located in Milan, Ohio, near her hometown. She suggested we do some sightseeing at Edison's winter estate in nearby Fort Myers.
Those of you rubber experts know where I'm going with this. As a relative novice—I just celebrated my third year anniversary at RPN—I had no idea what I was about to encounter.
As I walked to the grounds of the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory, I expected a typical Florida botanical paradise, with exotic plants, wildlife, paintings and turn-of-the-century architecture, similar to John D. Rockefeller's summer retreat in Williamsburg, Va.
That certainly was true. But one word in the first historical marker jumped out at me: Rubber.
You see the Edison laboratory was the workplace for a one-time bustling business. Edison collaborated with one of rubber's first rock stars, Harvey Firestone, and Henry Ford to create a working lab to discover another rubber source that could be grown and produced quickly in the U.S., in the event of a shortage abroad.
Edison oversaw the company, called the Edison Botanic Research Corp. The facility, constructed in 1928, operated until 1936, five years after America's most famous inventor died. He and his team tested more than 17,000 plants, according to information distributed at EBRC, and they eventually found rubber in the plant Goldenrod.
Those who had restored the working laboratory had meticulously filled the space with instruments, historical documents, photographs and more.
This was more than just your typical museum. For those of us who work in the rubber industry, it was like taking a time machine back into a sacred period in our professional history.
According to the organization that operates the facility today, the laboratory became the American Chemical Society's inaugural National Historic Chemical Landmark in Florida in 2014.
While I learned plenty about rubber that day, I also discovered something else: There's plenty more to learn.
Detore is managing editor of Rubber & Plastics News. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DonDetore.