Henry Ford, combining his love for invention, industry and agriculture, introduces what was billed as the first plastic automobile -- the "Soybean Car" -- on Aug. 13, 1941, at Dearborn Days, an annual community festival in Dearborn, Mich.
The car's frame, made of tubular steel, was covered in 14 plastic panels. It weighed just 2,000 pounds, or 1,000 pounds lighter than a standard steel car.
Ford, who grew up on a farm, claimed the plastic panels made the car safer than traditional steel cars. He was confident the car could even roll over without being crushed.
Ford and other automakers faced a shortage of metal at the time, and Henry Ford hoped the new plastic material might replace traditional metals used to assemble cars.
Henry Ford initially put E.T. "Bob" Gregorie of Ford's styling department in charge of the car but was not satisfied with the project. The program was then transferred to Ford's Soybean Laboratory in Greenfield Village under the supervision of Lowell Overly, an expert in tool and die design. He was assisted by his supervisor, Robert Boyer, a noted chemist.
The exact ingredients of the plastic panels are unknown because no record of the formula exists, according to the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich. One report claims that they were made from a chemical formula that, among many other ingredients, included soybeans, wheat, hemp, flax and ramie.
The man instrumental in creating the car, Lowell Overly, claims it was "soybean fiber in a phenolic resin with formaldehyde used in the impregnation."
With the start of World War II, auto production was suspended, halting the plastic car experiment. A second plastic car was in production at the time the war broke out but the project was abandoned, according to the Henry Ford museum. And when the war ended, the pursuit of the plastic car was dropped in favor of other war recovery efforts.