The History of Durex Book


Protective Practices. A History of the London Rubber Company and the Condom Business

By Jessica Borge. 

Forward by Lesley A. Hall 

McGill-Queen's University Press 2020

About The Book

From humble beginnings wholesaling at a small tobacconist-hairdresser shop in 1915, the London Rubber Company rapidly became the UK's biggest postwar producer and exporter of disposable rubber condoms. A first-mover and innovator, the company's continuous product development and strong brands (including Durex) allowed it to dominate supply to the retail trade and family planning clinics, leading it to intercede in the burgeoning women's market. When oral contraceptives came along, however, the company was caught in a bind between defending condoms against the pill and claiming a segment of the new birth control market for itself. In this first major study on the company, Jessica Borge shows how, despite the "unmentionable" status of condoms that inhibited advertising in the early twentieth century, aggressive business practices were successfully deployed to protect the monopoly and squash competition. Through close, evidence-based examination of LRC's first fifty years, encompassing its most challenging decades, the 1950s and 1960s, as well as an overview of later years including the AIDS crisis, Borge argues that the story of the modern disposable condom in Britain is really the story of the London Rubber Company, the circumstances that befell it, the struggles that beset it, the causes that opposed it, and the opportunities it created for itself. LRC's historic intervention in and contribution to female contraceptive practices sits uneasily with existing narratives centred on women's control of reproduction, but the time has come, Borge argues, for the condom to find its way back to the centre of these debates. Protective Practices thereby re-examines a key transitional moment in social and cultural history through the lens of this unusual case study.

306 Pages, 6 x 9

57 photos, 22 tables

ISBN 9780228003335

September 2020

Formats: Cloth, eBook

“Protective Practices is a wonderfully rich eye-opening book about the British condom business, a tale of automated production, monopoly profits, near full-spectrum dominance of contraceptive techniques and complex corporate skulduggery.  In its pages the history of the secretive London Rubber Company is evocatively brought to life to create an unusually satisfying business and medical history.” David Edgerton, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, King’s College London

“Protective Practices is a must-read for anyone interested in the intertwined histories of contraception, technology, and the personal-product business.” Donna J. Drucker, author of Contraception: A Concise History

“This deeply researched and engagingly written study of the London Rubber Company not only tells the fascinating story of a significant and dynamic business, it also shines fresh light on the changing sexual culture of twentieth-century Britain. This is highly recommended for anyone interested in the production, advertising and retailing of that controversial and sought-after item: the condom.” Adrian Bingham, University of Sheffield

"This empirically rich, deftly researched, and intriguing survey of the commercial and cultural aspects of the trade in protectives, through the lens of the London Rubber Company, offers a pathbreaking account of the evolution of male contraceptives in twentieth-century Britain.” Alana Harris, senior lecturer in Modern British History, King's College London

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IMAGE:  Electronic testing, 1950s. © Vestry House Museum, London Borough of Waltham Forest.

Durex is a trademark of Reckitt Benckiser group of companies. The author has received no corporate funding in the research, production or promotion of this book.