The Roots of the Rubber Industry: excerpts from Harvey S. Firestone, Jr.


Às vezes Sempre vale a pena lembrar-se dos aconticimentos históricos.  Ontem à noite passei a tarde na biblioteca pesquisando um pouco sobre indústrias nascentes nos EUA.  Com certeza a atitúde do governo (e do povo mesmo) acerca das patentes e a respeito de normas internacionais eram muito diferentes do que no momento atual.  O autor pintou a cidade de Manaus como uma extravagância. Não é verdade que os ingleses roubaram mesmo as sementes do êxito dessa cidade brasileira?  Assim, por que outros países mais avançados reclamam quando os países emergentes copiam uma tecnologia, e faz-se algo próprio do seu povo, enquanto melhoram a tecnologia para servir as suas necessidades?

A história da borracha está no resumo abaixo.  As passagens em inglês são de “The Romance and Drama of the Rubber Industry”, o qual foi esteve relatado  por Harvey S. Firestone Jr. na forma de  jornalismo televisivo.  Firestone Jr. era o vice-presidente da empresa Firestone Tire & Rubber Company.  Os relatos foram dados entre setembro de 1931 e setembro de 1932.  Não coloquei todas as passagens sobre a industria da borracha, só uma inteira e a metade da outra, apenas para destacar os pontos que eu acho serem importantes.


A industria de borracha resumida:

Ontem eu aprendi muito sobre a indústria de borracha e seu envolvimento no mundo antes, durante, e depois da primeira guerra mundial.  Eu não sabia que as colheitas do liquido usado para fazer borracha eram realizadas somente na região da Amazônia.  Quando o pessoal de Manaus tentou pedir um preço excessivamente alto, o mundo não quis pagar mais aquele preço. 

Então, no ano 1875, Henry Wickham contrabandeou as sementes da árvore que produz borracha, e as levou até a Inglaterra.  Pelos próximos vinte anos, uma equipe de especialistas germinaram essas sementes e as plantaram na Malásia e Ceilão, algumas colônias da Inglaterra.

Last week you heard about those interesting days of wild rubber, when the luxuriant tropical forests surrounding the headwaters of the Amazon in Brazil supplies the great bulk of rubber used by the world.  After this first era of procuring rubber there followed a second, in which rubber from the majestic uncultivated trees of that country began to vanish from the world markets and plantation rubber came to take its place.

There were a number of reasons why Brazil faded from the picture as the outstanding producer of rubber.  The principle one, however, was founded in a very common human weakness- a mistaken desire to exact from trade the last cent the traffic will bear.

By that time – the early part of the present century – rubber had established itself as an indispensable article of everyday use.  The automobile has just come into popular use and brought with it a sudden increase in the demand for crude rubber to use in making tires.  Only Brazil could supply this demand and Brazil went money-mad over the possibilities of what it could make the world pay for rubber through the use of export taxes and selling pools.

It was under such conditions as these that a great speculative movement in Brazil gained headway and pushed the price of the best grades of crude rubber to a dollar and a half a pound.  That was the first corner in Brazilian rubber, and it happened just twenty-five years ago.  Then came the second “squeeze” by the money-hungry monopolists five years later, and the price advanced from seventy-two cents a pound to a top of $3.06 a pound.  If we were still compelled to pay Brazil the exorbitant rate for raw rubber which prevailed in 1910, a set of tired for which you now pay thirty-five dollars would cost two hundred dollars.

The great boom city of that day was Manaos [Manaus], far up the Amazon River.  Nearly everyone there was prosperous – and correspondingly extravagant.  The orgy of spending reached even to the government.  For example, one of the things the city fathers of Manaos did was to erect an opera house costing two million dollars, and the rubber users of the world paid for it through inflated prices.

In the city of Para [the state of Pará?], a port closer to the Atlantic coast, a league of rubber traders was formed for the acknowledged purpose of holding back a sufficient quantity of rubber to control the price.  So open was everybody about squeezing the world in general, that the league boldly asked the state government to appropriate three hundred thousand dollars to support their project, but that was just a little too much, and the legislators refused.

But a day of reckoning was at hand, due to the fact that the results of the great exploit of Henry Wickham, whose adventure was described a few weeks ago, were beginning to show.  It was Wickham, you will recall, who in 1875 defied the government of Brazil and at the risk of his liberty and perhaps his life, smuggled the priceless seeds of the rubber tree out of that country.  English botanists nurtured these seeds and multiplied them, but for twenty-five years they made little practical headway.  Then rubber plantations began to develop in the Far East, and it is a coincidence that the first rubber to be offered in the commercial quantities from these plantations reached London during the inflated monopoly prices of 1905.  The unbelievable percentage of profit they showed arouse England to intense activity.  In a short time wild rubber had begun to wane.  So steady has been its disappearance that today it provides less than three per cent of the world’s rubber requirements, while the cultivated plantations furnish all the rest, which is more than 800,000 tons of rubber per year.

The Firestone Tire & Rubber Company is one of the world’s largest consumers of rubber.  Every year millions of Firestone Tires are sent all over America and to the four corners of the earth.  In each of them is built the finest quality which the last word in scientific development and manufacturing efficiency makes possible.  In each one of them is incorporated the spirit of the Firestone organization, which aims not only to serve faithfully and well, but which delights in a new friendship made and old friendship more closely cemented. 

-November 23, 1931

Depois de poucos anos, o Brasil acabou vendendo apenas 0,03 % da borracha mundial, enquanto as colonias britânicas ganharam cada vez mais porcentagem das exportações.  No início da primeira guerra mundial, a Inglaterra avisou a todos os outros países que ninguém poderia reexportar borracha aos alemães.  Os Estados Unidos obedeceu por um momento, mas a partir da guerra, os EUA utilizaram quase 0,75% da borracha mundial na fabricação da indústria automobilística.  A Inglaterra fez uma tentativa de avalancar o seu monopólio para aumentar o preço da commodity até 0,30 centavos por pound.  Desde então o preço oscilou em torno de 0,07 centavos por pound. 

Assim foi a história de como a indústria de borracha regressou ao Brasil, devido às inversões norte-americanas, procurando uma maneira de assegurar outro mercado para esse produto.  Harvery S. Firestone,  Sr. E Henry Ford, ambos tiveram interesses no desenvolvimento da indústria, agora numa forma melhor cultivada e organizada, na cidade de Boa Vista, no estado depois conhecido como Roraima.

Embora que eu não concordo com a descrição do progresso de desmatamento da floresta tropical é interessante notar que essa atitúde com relação à natureza era comum tanto no Brasil como nos EUA.

XXXII. The Ford Rubber Project in Brazil

In the heart of the dense jungle of Brazil, vivid in its tropical beauty and perilous in its wild animal life, a modern American town has risen in recent years.  It is the hub and nerve center of a remarkable rubber enterprise founded by Henry Ford and stands as his contribution to America’s fight against the restriction on rubber from the Far East, which sent prices soaring in 1925.  Mr. Ford is another great American who had shared in my father’s conviction as expressed in his slogan: “Americans Should Produce Their Own Rubber.” Last week you heard how Mr. Edison had joined in this cause by devoting the last six years of his life to the development of an American plant which would produce rubber in practical quantities. 

The town which Mr. Ford carved from a tangled and towering mass of vegetation is named Boa Vista, which in English means “Good View.”  Surrounding it are nearly four million acres of tropical wilderness made available to Mr. Ford by the Brazilian government.  It is to this immense tract of land, lying six hundred miles up the picturesque and fabled Amazon Valley,  that all Brazil looks for a revival of the glory which one was hers as the world’s center of rubber production.  Further up the river is the ghost city of Manaós [Manaus], famed just a few short years ago as a place of gaiety and flowing wealth and known as “the tropical Paris of the West.”  Now it is a slumbering and deserted relic of those by-gone days when wild rubber from Brazil rules the markets of the world.

When Mr. Ford conceived Boa Vista, men familiar with the Amazon Valley smiled knowingly and said it could not be done.  They pointed out that the jungle was impenetrable and that the tropical diseases which prevailed could not be controlled.  But Mr. Ford, whose ears are deaf to those who say, “It can’t be done,” went tramped through the thick and luxuriant underbrush.  They analyzed the soil, tested the wild rubber trees and studied how to convert this tropical maze into an orderly place of human habitation.


Under the onslaught of men and tools, the jungle was gradually pushed back.  The mass of vines and shrubs and trees slowly gave way to orderly rows of young rubber plants; pestilence was conquered and the remarkable town of Boa Vista began to rear itself.  Homes for the native workers appeared, providing them with the most comfortable and sanitary quarters they had ever known.  A lighting plant was built, a sawmill sprang into existence, streets were laid out, a school was erected and factories were constructed.  And all this while the new rubber plantation was spreading through a jungle which heretofore had defied the encroachment of man.  Mr. Ford has done the thing which experts said could not be done.

-April 18, 1932


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