The Soybean Car

Written by Chloe Harwood

If your are like most people, you are familiar with soy products. Besides the obvious, like soy milk, soy sauce and soy nuts, soy is used in hundreds of other food products. But what might come as a surprise is that many of us sit on soy cushions (soy-foam) or have other soy materials (soy-based bioplastics) in our vehicles. What few people know, says our friends at Plantation Ford (Florida), is that Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, would be especially pleased with this. Henry was one of the leading proponents of the development of ways to benefit the livelyhood of American farmers.

Ford History

Henry Ford was born in 1863 and grew up on a Michigan farm. He had a natural tendency toward mechanical things and as a teenager he fixed and modified most of the machinery on the farm.  Before long, Ford was drawn into exciting new world of motorized transportation. In 1896, he demonstarted a motorized “Quadricycle” and this quickly lead to the launching of the Ford Motor Company.

Following a number of early models in the early 1900s, in 1908, the Ford Motor Company released the famous Model T-  the car most often credited with putting America on wheels. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, Ford in an active search for farmer-friendly products, developed a number of new technologies and materials. One of them was especially interesting: a plastic-like material made from soy beans.

The Soybean Car

In the late 1930s, this new plastic material was evaluated for use in Ford production. This lead to a prototype “Soybean Car,” a plastic-bodied automobile that was unveiled by Ford Motor Company in late 1941.  The prototype car weighed just 2000 lbs. which was almost 1000 lbs. lighter than earlier steel cars! The ingredients of the plastic body panels were a special material that included soybeans, and small amounts of wheat, hemp, and flax.

What happened to the Soybean car

Only one was made. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II in 1941 suspended all auto production in the United States, and Ford’s soy bean-plastic car experiment was shelved. When the war ended in 1945, the idea of a plastic car fell through the cracks due to a focus on more tried and true materials such as iron and steel. Today, however, Henry Ford would be very pleased, though, because Ford Motor Company has achieved his goal of helping out farmers. It’s just that today, the soy goes into soy-foam, not into soy body panels.

About the author

Chloe Harwood