With Caldwell’s help, Wooster Rubber Company managed to prosper through the 1930s while the country remained mired in the Great Depression. They even expanded their line of cutting-edge housewares, developing rubber-coated dish racks, rubber gloves, sink mats, and rubber-handled dish scrubbers. It was not until the outbreak of World War II that their company experienced its first major setback. In May of 1942, the federal government halted the production of rubber goods for domestic use; rubber was to be used only for military needs. Wooster Rubber Company shut down production and was forced to lay off all but sixteen of its workers.
It was not long before Caldwell discovered the solution to his company’s troubles, however. Less than six months after the freeze on rubber, Wooster Rubber Company was able to secure a military production contract. For three years, the plant stopped making dustpans and dish racks and began producing rubber parts for bomber planes. The factory was busier than it had ever been. In addition to rehiring many Wooster area employees, Caldwell also had to recruit workers from the surrounding towns in order to keep the assembly lines moving fast enough to meet the military’s growing demand. Having cut its staff down to sixteen workers at the beginning of the war, Wooster Rubber had grown to 500 employees by 1944. Although Wooster Rubber Company’s wartime manufacturing ground to a halt on V.J. Day, the production boom of the war provided the momentum for Rubbermaid’s meteoric rise in the postwar years.1
1 Noble, 71-79.