Ideas with Impact
UNB Faculty of Management

UNB business prof sheds light on US Government-Business Relations in Carbon Black Industry

Author: Faculty of Management

Posted on Dec 8, 2021

Category: Faculty , Alumni

Carbon black, a fine powder composed of elemental carbon, is used to manufacture a variety of common household products like tires, vinyl records, the soles of shoes and inks. As a reinforcing filler for tires, it increases resistance to wear and abrasion. Dr. David Foord recently published a study about the innovative carbon black industry that developed in the mid-twentieth century United States. The article contributes to the ongoing debates about whether the relationship between the United States government and industry helped lay the foundation for postwar US prosperity. His article, “Industrial Transitions in the Black: US Government-Business Relations in the Mobilization of Carbon during World War II,” was published by Cambridge University Press in Enterprise & Society, and addresses the question, “What role did wartime mobilization and the US government play in carbon black industrial transitions and changes in technology and productivity?”

Foord started his research in 2012 when he was working on a project to develop a commercial carbon black reactor. He says, “The scientists and engineers wanted to learn from the patent and industrial literature as to how these reactors had been designed and performed. I learned there had been almost no studies of the development of this industry from the 1860s to the present, which was interesting because this is one of the foundational industries for modernity and industrialization. Carbon black is used to manufacture so many common products.”

World War II was a pivot time for the industry, he discovered, and this led him to the US National Archives in Washington, DC and New Maryland in 2015 to gather primary data on how innovation and scale up in the industry occurred.

The evidence from wartime records of the carbon black program shows that the industry dominated the government–business relations during the period. “The War Production Board was unable to effectively resolve or even report on disputes between synthetic rubber and carbon black industry factions or resist carbon black industry control over product prices and specifications and approval of government-financed plant construction projects.”

Prewar and wartime carbon black industrial research and development was behind this transition. “Through the federal government’s cooperative research, procurement, and sponsored construction contracts, the carbon black industry applied its industrial research discoveries to transform its business model to high-efficiency production in the context of postwar expansions of transportation infrastructure, economic growth, and natural gas pipelines.”

Foord joined UNB's faculty of management in 2019 and teaches courses in competitive strategy and entrepreneurship. His research focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship, science and technology studies, and history of science and technology. He shares his insights on the carbon black industry in many of the classes he teaches, and also with practitioners in the field, including the scientists and engineers who originally asked him to do the research for them.

Photo: Dr. David Foord’s research on the relationship between the US government and the carbon black industry was recently published in the journal Enterprise & Society.

Media contact: Liz Lemon-Mitchell