Almost every large rubber company that has been active for over a century has some form of history with producing rubber rainwear products at some point in time. For me personally it is always intriguiging to read up on the products they produced, the boots and raincoats they sold, and what happened to the company in the decades that followed when rubber rainwear slowly went out of fashion. US Rubber Company is one of those companies, and in this article I will take a closer look at their raincoat production which was sold under the brand name Raynster.
United States Rubber Company (est. 1892)
Charles Macintosh found a way to turn natural rubber into a sticky tar-like substance by mixing it with coal-tar naphtha. This substance could be spread between 2 layers of material turning it into a waterproof cloth, earning him the unofficial title of inventor of the modern waterproof raincoat. There were some serious drawbacks from his material though; the rubber would emit a strong odor that could last years, the rubber middle layer could crack in the cold affecting the waterproofness, and in the summer heat the material would turn liquid and sticky again making it unpleasant to wear. Below an impression of an early version of a Macintosh raincoat. More information about Charles Macintosh and his raincoats you can find here.
Charles Goodyear found the solution to these problems after years of experimenting with the material in the hopes of improving its usefulness. Together with his associates he developed a process requiring sulfur and heat which stabilized the rubber mixture reagrdless of the weather, took away a lot of the odor, and made it more durable. This process was called vulcanization and on February 24th, 1839, patent No. 1090 was awarded for this process. This patent would change the rubber industry forever.
While Charles Goodyear further improved his method of vulcanization in the years that followed, licensed out his patent to other companies, and started his own “Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Company”, he never reaped the financial benefits of his invention and died in 1860 with $200,000 of debts in his name.
The usability of rubber and popularity of rubber products improved over the years that followed and the industry grew rapidly. Patents expired after 15 years back then and soon many new companies were able to start producing rubber products without paying any licensing fees. While demand and supply steadily increased in the decades that followed, the production process was still very much in its infancy with for example the vulcanization happening by hanging rolls of rubberized fabric outdoors in the sun. On large fields wooden frames were erected on which the fabric would hang in a 45 degree to the sun to vulcanize every part of the sheet evenly, as shown below.
This was not a very scientific process, with quality differences appearing in fabrics that had been vulcanized on a perfectly hot and sunny day compared to cooler days with less sun. And obviously the production process would be delayed on cloudy and rainy days with fabrics piling up indoors waiting to be vulcanized. Only later was the vulcanization process improved by making use of airtight ovens which could run independent of weather conditions. Below raincoats ready to undergo the vulcanization process in a large oven.
Near the end of the 19th century the rubber industry was marked by strongly fluctuating profits. When rubber footwear companies turned an easy profit new competitors would start producing and price wars would ensue vaporizing the profit margins. It was Charles Flint, an American financier, who jumped into the market in 1892 and consolidated 11 rubber producers into one large company named United States Rubber Company to stabilize the industry. The new company immediately controlled half the nation’s footwear sales and their market share climbed to 75% in the years that followed. The profitability started to fall behind though, due to the costs of buying out the previous company’s owners.
Where most competitors started to invest hefty sums in developing the next big thing within the rubber industry, automobile tires, US Rubber passed on the opportunity and kept focusing on the footwear industry. In the years that followed they produced products under 30 different brand names. In 1916 they started to consolidate their brands and production, with their footwear falling under the “Keds” brand name and introducing the Raynster brand for their rainwear. Below the trademark registration for the Raynster brand, with a first use date of 1916.
Till then rubberized cloth was produced by different manufacturers, with widely differing qualities, making it hard for consumers to recognize quality and for US Rubber to promote their products. By combining the best practices of their several manufacturing locations they could set themselves apart with the Raynster brand. The practices and knowledge from 3 factories was combined to set the standard; the Boston Rubber Factory, best known for its overall quality, the American Rubber Company, known for its style and finish, and the Stoughton Rubber Factory, respected for the exceptional quality of rubber compounds used in proofing and skills applying this proofing.
Below a 1917 print advertisement poster for Raynster raincoats, available on ebay. Notice the stylish coats shown in the drawing and how it is mentioned several times that they have coats for the whole family, from youngsters to adults. The Raynster logo, with the instruction to look for this specific label, is to distinguish these coats from the competitors’.
Next a print advertisement from 1918, showing the Raynster logo floating above a crowd of people to keep them dry. Here further mention is made of the different types of raincoats they offered back then already: single and double textured coats and heavy rubber-coated raincoats for professional use as well. Single textured coats have the rubber lining visible on the inside of the coat, where double textured coats have the waterproof rubber layer hidden between two layers of fabric. Rubber coated raincoats have the rubber on the outside.
And finally two more print ads emphasizing the suitability of their raincoats for kids. I like how they expressly mention that their raincoat substitutes for a cumbersome umbrella, giving kids the freedom to move around and play.
The previously shown 1918 print advertisement already mentioned the availability of heavy rubber-coated raincoats for outdoor workers like policemen and teamsters. Below two depictions of the early 1920s of what these coats looked like, showing beautifully black rubber coats that would be impressive to wear.
US Rubber during the war period (1917-1945)
With America entering the Great War on April 6, 1917, American companies were contracted by the government to start producing for the American troops. The only reference I was able to find of US Rubber helping with these efforts is a small print ad showing American soldiers dressed in raincoats with the mention of Raynster being “a service label”. The print ad below is available through novaltyteen.
As seen previously there are plenty of advertisements from Raynster covering the Great War period (for the US the war lasted from 1917 till 1918), aimed at American families. This gives the impression that the effects of the Great War on production and sales were quite limited.
The Second World War had a much more profound impact on US Rubber, with large orders coming from the government for US Rubber to produce tires for military trucks and airplanes, as well as rubber-soled boots for the Ground Infantry (GI). Based on value of government contracts, US Rubber ranked 37th nationwide. This not only delivered a handsome profit to the company, it also kept their workforce employed and their factories running. With the supply of natural rubber coming from the Pacific drying up due to the aggression of the Japanese in that region the US government restricted sale of rubber products for civilian use. This forced US Rubber to sell the Eau Claire plant to the government, which turns it around for ammunition production, and more and more of the products produced make use of artificial rubber or plastic. Below three Raynster raincoats produced during the Second World War, showing the range of materials used for their raincoats. First an army issued black rubber raincoat which was for sale on Worthpoint. The bottom right picture with the label nicely shows the white fabric lining of the coat, while the top right picture gives a close-up of the thick rubber shell that keeps the rain out. This type of coat would be most suited for Naval units.
Second a military issued raincoat in 1943, previously on sale on the fjm44 website, made waterproof with a synthetic raisin, as mentioned on the label. In the bottom right you can see the synthetic lining of the raincoat, which was probably chosen due to the supply squeeze of natural rubber.
And finally a plastic transparent Raynster raincoat, claimed to be issued to US Servicemen in 1944, previously available on Worthpoint. Plastics were already available before the outbreak of the Second World War, and were regularly used for raincoats, but the choice for plastics in this raincoat would be mainly based on the fact that the limited amount of rubber available was better used in other military products.
US Rubber in the post-war period
In 1945 the Second World War coma to a conclusion and in the years that followed the supply of natural rubber coming from the Pacific started picking up again. The regular production of rubberized raincoats was restarted as well as shown in the print advertisement below in which they use the fact they supplied the military during the war as a selling point for their coats.
Another post-war advertisement, shown below, makes a more nuanced reference to their previous role in supplying the American troops by the headline “Serving you through science”.
Due to the lack of natural rubber during the war period the quality as well as the production processes of making synthetic materials made jumps and more and more Raynster products aimed at sports&leisure, as well as general use, stopped using rubber to make them waterproof. Below an advertisement from 1954 showing “plastic film Raynsters” with the unique selling point of being much thinner, while still keeping you dry, making it much lighter.
And another ad from 1956 again pointing out the lightweight, but still durable and reliable, materials used on the more modern Raynster raingear.
They still produced heavy-duty rubber gear though, but these are now mostly sold as professional, or industrial, rainwear as shown in the 1955 catalogue below.
Below a picture of a heavy-duty rubberized Raynster raincoat from an advertisement on 1stopretroshop.com. This raincoat is dated 1950s and seems to be in perfect condition. It would be great if high quality raincoats like that, made out of rubber, would still be available today.
In 1961 the US Rubber Company registers the trademark Uniroyal and in the years that follow all subsidiaries switch to the new name. The specific trademark for their raincoats is registered in 1963 with first use in 1962. Below the details of the trademark application.
From here onwards the Raynster name is used in combination with Uniroyal, as shown in the picture below from some of their yellow PVC raingear previously on sale on poshmark.
This switch in name also seems to coincide with the phasing out of natural rubber for proofing their raincoats. Over time PVC has been proving to be just as waterproof, but more durable and cheaper. Below an Ebay advertisement picture of a Uniroyal Raynster raincoat in PVC. While this raincoat clearly tries to mimic the older rubber raincoats, the use of PVC instead of rubber takes away some of the absolute magic that is visible in the surface of the older raincoats.
And from the same advertisement the tag belonging to the coat, showing this is part of their industrial raincoats line and contains no rubber whatsoever anymore.
The seventies turned out to be a difficult time for tire producers in general, and Uniroyal specifically. A period of economic recession and the development of radial tires, which required investments in new production equipment and processes, resulted in losses in 1979 and drastic cuts in capacity in 1980. In 1985 Uniroyal was taken private in a leveraged buyout to avoid a hostile takeover by Carl Icahn. In this process the company takes on a lot of debt so it can purchase all outstanding stocks in the hopes it can turn the company around when it is not listed anymore. With almost $1 billion in debt all subsidiaries were sold off to other companies to pay off the debt and avoid bankruptcy. Part of the footwear division, which includes the Hunter brand of rubber boots (see my article about the North British Rubber Company for that story), is being sold to Gates Rubber, but there is little information available what exactly happened to the Raynster brand of raincoats. It seems that Uniroyal simply gave up on the brand, with as most compelling evidence the expiration of the trademark on the Raynster brand in 1984, as shown below:
Extending the trademark would be of little effort and cost, but the fact Uniroyal decided to let it simply expire suggests the production of products under the Raynster brand name was stopped some time before already and there were no plans to resurrect it. The complete lack of advertising materials, catalogs, or vintage raincoats from this last period seem to confirm the brand simply died out, which concludes the story of the Raynster brand.