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Henry Ford’s soybean car and suit show that from the tiny bean come many things

posted by on 2009.06.26, under history, soybean car, soybeans, wow



It’s clear that the Internet is a stellar platform for going “vertical” to dig out and present information. In this case, I actually was looking for tofu-related clothing.

Somehow, I came across Henry Ford’s experimental ”Soybean Car.” And I thought: Look at this.

His vehicle from the early 1940s was not some squishy soybean cake mobile with a bean curd bumper and tofu top.

No, he used the roly-poly bean in an innovative formula to eventually make a 2,000-pound vehicle that featured a tubular steel frame and plastic panels, according to the Benson Ford Research Center.

So, why did he do it?

Ford, who was known for tinkering, apparently wanted to marry agriculture with industry, the center reported. He also thought plastic could replace traditional steel and that it was actually safer for cars.

The research center notes two explanations of how soybeans became part of the plastic panels for this vehicle:

One article claims that they were made from a chemical formula that, among many other ingredients, included soybeans, wheat, hemp, flax and ramie; while the man who was instrumental in creating the car, Lowell E. Overly, claims it was ‘…soybean fiber in a phenolic resin with formaldehyde used in the impregnation.’

The main problem: There is no record of the formula that he used.

Ford unveiled the car in August 1941. But automobile production came to a halt during World War II. So did continued research on the “Soybean Car,” which reportedly was destroyed.

Engineering certainly was one impetus for Ford, the automotive pioneer, to put his brainpower behind the car.

But there is evidence, sartorial in this case, that he long had an interest in soybeans.

The Restaurant at the Henry Ford Estate notes that he loved promoting that roly-poly bean that originated in Asia:

On several occasions, between 1934 and 1943, he entertained reporters at luncheons, in which every course contained soybeans, from tomato juice with soybean sauce to soybean cookies and soybean candy for dessert.

The restaurant even features Ford posing in a light-colored soybean suit for his 78th birthday.



Photo source: Henry Ford Estate Restaurant


William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi of the SoyInfo Center have posted a detailed essay, citing that Ford’s soybean suit was made of 25 percent soybean “wool.”

The remaining portion was sheep’s wool.

In the late 1930s, they write, he also showed up in a tie, which was made from soybean “wool.”

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