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Empire of Rubber: Scenes from Firestone’s Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia

November 3, 2021 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

This event has passed. You can access a recording of it here.

Time: 12pm CT, 5pm UTC

Speaker: Gregg Mitman

PRESENTATION DESCRIPTIONPhoto of Firestone Airplane 1937

In the early 1920s, Americans owned 80 percent of the world’s automobiles and consumed 75 percent of the world’s rubber. But only one percent of the world’s rubber grew under the U.S. flag, threatening the nation’s explosive economic expansion. To solve its conundrum, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company turned to a tiny West African nation, Liberia, founded in 1847 as a free Black republic.

Empire of Rubber tells a riveting story of of ecology and disease, of commerce and science, and of racial politics and political maneuvering, as Firestone sought to transform Liberia into America’s rubber empire. Drawing upon excerpts from Mitman’s forthcoming book, this talk illuminates how Black activists, writers, scientists, diplomats, and businesspeople from across the African diaspora rallied to support or oppose the experiment that was Firestone in Liberia. It also offers an intimate portrait of how industrial ecologies, born of racial capitalism, shaped the relationships among people, trees, chemicals, machines, and parasites on what became a Jim Crow corporate enclave on African soil.


Photo of Gregg Mitman

Gregg Mitman is the Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History, Medical History, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is an award-winning author, filmmaker, and teacher, whose interests span the history of science, medicine, and the environment in the United States and the world and include a commitment to environmental and social justice. His latest book, Empire of Rubber: Firestone’s Scramble for Land and Power in Liberia, will be published by The New Press in the fall of 2021.


November 3, 2021
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm