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The Soybean Car

The Soybean Car was a plastic-bodied car that was shown to the public on August 13, 1941. It was a project of Henry Ford’s and the goal was to create a car made of plastic and according to the Henry Ford Museum there were three reasons for this project:

  1. Ford was looking to integrate industry with agriculture
  2. Ford claimed that his plastic cars were safer than traditional steel cars
  3. Ford was hoping to replace the traditional metals that were used in cars. This was especially relevant at the time because of the shortage of metal due to World War II.

Ford initially had E.T. Gregorie in charge of the project but eventually transferred it to the Soybean Laboratory in Greenfield Village under the care of Lowell Overly. The frame of the car was made of tubular steel which was attached to fourteen plastic panels. The car weighed about 2000 lbs which was about 1000 lbs less than a typical car at the time.

There is quite a bit of mystery surrounding the car as the exact ingredients used for the plastic panels are unknown since there is no record of the formula used. Overly said the material body was ‘soybean fiber in phenolic resin with formaldehyde used in impregnation’. Another article claimed it was made from a formula including ingredients such as soybeans, wheat, hemp, flax and ramie. Plastic engineers today question whether it contained a significant amount of soy material at all.

Because of World War II auto-production dropped dramatically in the US and the plastic car experiment was put on hold. By time the war ended the project was abandoned. The original model that was unveiled in 1941 was destroyed by E.T. Gregorie.