History Rubber Wars
posted by January 25 at 14:45 PMon
One of my favorite anecdotes about World War II involves condoms and cooperation between nations. I think my father first told it to me. The story goes like this:
During the war, Russian soldiers would place condoms over the barrels of their rifles to prevent water damage. As the war grinded on, condoms were in short supply, leading Stalin to send a request to president Roosevelt for a shipment of “standard small U.S. condoms.”
Roosevelt agreed, with one request of his own: The condoms were to be extra large in size and stamped with the words “Standard U.S. Size.”
At least, that’s how I had heard the story. But after recounting the anecdote to a friend the other night, who found it all very dubious, I decided to do a little investigating. Wikipedia told me nothing, but some time with Google led me to a comment posted here by one “markm”:
In WWII, the Russians complained about the condoms sent with the Lend-Lease supplies. Stalin claimed they were too small. Finally, Roosevelt had extra-extra large special ordered—and shipped in packages marked “Texas Medium.”
This is similar to the story I’d been told, save for the “Texas Medium” bit. But after a bit more sleuthing I found this comment on a site called Creative Cow:
Ran across this in a “Straight Dope” article. Don’t know if it is true but it’s the Cold War in a nutshell:
Seems that in the latter part of the cold war Russia was allowed some limited trade with the U.S. Some nameless institution ordered 50,000 condoms from an American plant (located in Texas, I like to think).
The order specified that the condoms were to be 11 inches long. The Americans scratched their heads, called the Russians to verify the measurement, and were rudely told that the order was correct, all of the condoms should be 11 inches long.
So the Americans proceeded to fill the order and shipped the Russians 50,000 11-inch condoms—in boxes labeled “medium.” Heh heh heh.
Again, similar, only this time the tale has been transferred to the Cold War. And seeing as how I couldn’t find one reputable source to verify my story, I was beginning to think it was all horsehockey—a feeling backed up when I came across this:
There is a story—probably untrue—that during the war, one soldier learned how to keep his gun’s firing mechanism warm in freezing weather by stretching a condom over it. News got back to Churchill, and it was suggested that Durex be approached to manufacture 18 inch condoms. Churchill is said to have agreed, on two conditions—that the condom be labeled ‘Made in Britain,’ and ‘Medium.’
And then this, from the site Anecdotage:
During World War II, British soldiers discovered that placing a condom over a gun’s barrel would keep the weapon dry and prevent it from corroding (near the sea) or icing up (in winter conditions).
No such condoms existed for larger weapons, however, and it was suggested to Winston Churchill one day that 18” long specimens be made to cover larger artillery pieces. Churchill agreed, with two stipulations. First, the larger condoms would clearly be labeled “For Use By British Servicemen.” And second? The condoms would also be labeled “Small.”
So it appears my favorite WWII anecdote is complete trash—and if something close to it did happen it probably belongs to Churchill, not Roosevelt. Which is too bad, because the one I thought was true was funnier.
Still, Googling “Franklin Roosevelt + condoms” did turn up this bit of history:
One of the most intense policy debates during the war was whether to provide American troops with condoms. The secretary of the navy, Josephus Daniels, rejected the idea, fearing that it would corrupt the troops’ morals…While Daniels was on vacation, however, his undersecretary, Franklin Roosevelt, authorized prophylactics for sailors.
So there you go.