Jessica Borge | Wanting it Both Ways”: The London Rubber Company, the Condom and the Pill, 1915-1970

The London Rubber Company [LRC] was England’s largest ever condom manufacturer. Competition disappeared after the war, and Durex condoms became a household name. However, social groups wary of commerce pilloried the contraceptive retail trade. Negative cultural associations dogged the condom’s public image, which discouraged competition but also obstructed advertising. When oral contraception was taken up by mass media in the 1960s, LRC and the condom were left behind. LRC survived by reorganising its main trading areas, diversifying, and by sabotaging the oral contraceptive project through an underground marketing programme. This included the marketing of its own infiltrator Pill, Feminor. In the absence of company archives, this thesis assembles a history of LRC’s strategic, corporate, sales and marketing activity by presenting new, alternative primary sources including market research and industry intelligence reports, annual reports, patents and trademarks, correspondence, films, television programmes, photographs and interviews. By focussing on industry-generated sources, this thesis makes the case for examining the cultural problem of the “unmentionable” condom through a corporate lens, explaining how LRC negotiated barriers to communicating sales messages. The thesis is structured as two halves: before and after the introduction of the oral contraceptive Pill. Section One concerns the condom, cultural problems affecting the public image of for-profit contraceptives, and the rise of LRC as a manufacturer and distributor from 1915 to 1960. Section Two is organised around LRC’s awareness of and response to the Pill from c.1957 to 1970. In offering an alternative perspective to the current dominant Social History narratives on British contraceptive habits, this thesis repositions the condom as an adventure in business acumen and media savvy. It concludes that contraceptive practices were influenced by the desires and requirements of 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

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