From humble beginnings wholesaling at a small tobacconist-hairdresser shop in 1915, the London Rubber Company rapidly became the UK's biggest postwar producer and exporter of disposable rubber condoms. A first-mover and innovator, the company's continuous product development and strong brands (including Durex) allowed it to dominate supply to the retail trade and family planning clinics, leading it to intercede in the burgeoning women's market.
When oral contraceptives came along, however, the company was caught in a bind between defending condoms against the pill and claiming a segment of the new birth control market for itself. In this first major study on the company, Jessica Borge shows how, despite the "unmentionable" status of condoms that inhibited advertising in the early twentieth century, aggressive business practices were successfully deployed to protect the monopoly and squash competition. Through close, evidence-based examination of LRC's first fifty years, encompassing its most challenging decades, the 1950s and 1960s, as well as an overview of later years including the AIDS crisis, Borge argues that the story of the modern disposable condom in Britain is really the story of the London Rubber Company, the circumstances that befell it, the struggles that beset it, the causes that opposed it, and the opportunities it created for itself.
LRC's historic intervention in and contribution to female contraceptive practices sits uneasily with existing narratives centred on women's control of reproduction, but the time has come, Borge argues, for the condom to find its way back to the centre of these debates. Protective Practices thereby re-examines a key transitional moment in social and cultural history through the lens of this unusual case study.
Publisher: McGill-Queen's University Press
Number of pages: 306
Dimensions: 229 x 152 mm
"Borge intervenes with a clear corporate and industrial focus. The London Rubber Company's growth from a backstreet wholesaler to a global contraceptive powerhouse is intrinsically engaging. Borge's tight focus creates a valuable look at a powerful company's methods and failures. Overall, Protective Practices is an appreciated addition to British contraceptive history from an in-depth business perspective." Enterprise and Society
"Borge's study offers an important new economic perspective to histories of contraception and sexual practice. From the suggestive typography on the cover, to the stylish composition of the chapter headings, and the reproduction of twenty-six images and figures, Protective Practices has been beautifully produced by McGill-Queen's University Press and is a lovely object to read. It will be of interest to students and academics researching and teaching not only the history of sexuality, but the histories of technology, business, and manufacturing in Britain and beyond." Metascience
"Protective Practices gives excellent detail to the early years of the London Rubber Company and its initial success and growth to market dominance, ... and is an excellent resource for a company that otherwise lacks a singular archive." Left History
"This study is a valuable contribution as it delineates the changing condom industry and the London Rubber Company's concerted efforts to maintain its market share. Recommended. All readers." Choice
"Borge's careful (and often hilarious) explanations of London Rubber's multifaceted situations make Protective Practices an accessible and enjoyable read. Her arguments are well evidenced, and the photographs of the factory and staff members add a tangible human presence to her story. Finally, this monograph will inspire its readers to reflect on the legacy of London Rubber's condom industry, and how the company contributed to the easy access of contraception and the sexual freedoms in modern Britain that we can now enjoy today." Cultural and Social History
"As Borge writes, "In the 1970s, London Rubber had privately stated that it wished to avoid making any public connection with disease," so when Aids emerged, its silence was unsurprising. And, considering its prior tactics, neither was its reaction to upstart rivals." Esquire
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