Jessica Borge | The London Rubber Company, the Condom and the Pill: 1932-1965

In the 1930s London Rubber Company (LRC) became Britain’s largest condom manufacturer. A wartime contract, followed by flotation in the 1950s, enabled LRC to expand dramatically and eliminating competition. Durex became a household name. However, social groups pilloried the contraceptive retail trade, and negative cultural associations with itinerant sex and disease dogged the condom’s public image. LRC faced sometimes-arbitrary restrictions on mainstream advertising and sales promotion in pharmacies and elected instead to align itself with the Family Planning Association with the object of exploiting the relationship for publicity.

However, London Rubber was left behind when the oral contraceptive Pill, supported by the FPA, was taken up by the mainstream media in the 1960s.

LRC made little progress on its own advertising for condoms and was frozen out of mass media discussions on contraception. It strategized for survival through a continued vertical integration programme, by anticipating new markets, and by expanding its trading areas. In the short term, LRC sabotaged oral contraceptive publicity. It also tried to bring its own Pill to the market.

This thesis provides an interdisciplinary history of corporate and marketing strategy in the British contraceptive marketplace. In the absence of an archive it assembles a history of LRC and its competitive activities by drawing together diverse primary source materials anchored by annual reports, patents and trademarks, correspondence, comparative studies, and photographic evidence. The cultural problem of the ‘unmentionable’ condom is approached through a corporate lens, which asks how barriers to publicity were negotiated with a view to continuing the condom business. In offering an alternative perspective to the current dominant social history and social science narratives on British contraceptive habits, this thesis repositions the condom as an adventure in business acumen. It concludes that contraceptive practices were influenced by the desires and requirements of a commercial enterprise, the circumstances that befell it, and efforts to control the image of a popular but troubled product.

Jessica graduated from the Institute of Historical Research, School of Advance Study, University of London, with an MA in Historical Research in 2012.  She is an AHRC funded doctoral student with the Department of Film, Culture and Media awardee and sub-edits for DandelionAlong with Richard Evans, she was a co-winner of the Hub-sponsored Student Prize, with the symposium ‘Holding Things In Common‘. She has also held a Smithsonian IPS Fellowship and in April 2015 was awarded a Dittrick Medical Museum Research Studentship to work with the Percy Skuy Collection.  She is supervised by Drs. Janet McCabe and Suzannah Biernoff.

***  Winner ***
van forest prize

2015 Pieter van Foreest Student Prize 

The European Association for the History of Medicine and Health (EAHMH)

Related websites :

Blog Post | Making and Marketing Condoms, for The Wellcome Library, 20 October 2016.

AHRC Image Gallery | The Oral Contraceptive Trade in Britain: Print Marketing Collateral, 1961-1969

Blog Post | Condoms, Pills and More: The Contraceptive Historian’s PlaygroundDittrick Museum Blog. Medical History and More, 14 January 2016.

Blog Post | Scratching Surfaces: Attractions and Pitfalls of Using Ads as Historical Sources, January 2015

Blog Post |  How Orals Altered the 1960s Marketplace in 1960s Britain, Perceptions of Pregnancy, 2 November 2014

One thought on “Jessica Borge | The London Rubber Company, the Condom and the Pill: 1932-1965

Comments are closed.