Germany's start in the search for synthetic rubber came as a mistake. Not the serendipitous science type of mistake where someone was trying to make a new glue and accidentally came up with rubber. Not that kind of mistake. Germany's mistake was that they forgot about rubber.
How did Germany forget about rubber? When planning for the war, the high command could have looked at every military campaign in history without ever thinking about rubber. Since the American Civil War, rubber had found more and more uses on the battlefield. It's World War I, however, the war of the gas mask, the airplane, the dirigible, telecommunications, and motor transport; a war that cannot be fought without rubber.
What are the Germans to do? After they declare war on Russia and France in early August 1914, Great Britain declares war on Germany. They produce no rubber of their own, and most of the world's rubber plantations belong to Great Britain, Germany's enemy. It is no great surprise when England sets up a blockade to prevent Germany from getting supplies. Unable to buy rubber directly from the producer, Germany sends agents to New York to try and buy rubber, but England slaps an embargo on all rubber from it's eastern plantations going to the United States. American factory heads plead desperately, and eventually the embargo is lifted under the condition that no rubber will be exported from the United States. Rubber brokers who fail to follow this rule will loose the right to buy rubber in the future. While this is a serious threat, smuggling does occur, but not enough to provide Germany with a substantial source of natural rubber.
Unable to import new rubber, Germany scrambles to recycle any rubber they have lying around. They collect scraps from production lines and confiscate automobile and bicycle tires from civilians. Shipping crews from Germany and some neutral companies buy small rubber goods, such as raincoats, overshoes, and water bottles, and sell them for fantastic prices in German ports.
When recycling attempts are insufficient, the Germans try makeshift tires. Tires made of wood and wood covered with leather or canvas are tried. When those fail, tires made of metal springs inside of steel bands are designed, with no success. They even try refacing useless old tires with steel rivet studded leather and fill them with a jelly-like material instead of inner tubes. These also fail when friction heats the tires and the jelly melts and squirts out of the cracks and holes in the tires.
Without tires, Germany's future looks bleak. Then came methyl rubber.
Maybe the Germans forgot about rubber because they were paying more attention to current events such as these:
Brothers and bicycle manufacturers from Detroit, MI, John and Horace Dodge, use their knowledge of automobiles gained from building parts for Ford and Olds to start their own business making cars.
Gustav Holst composes his famous orchestral suite, The Planets.
The Panama Canal opens.
The magazine Vanity Fair begins publication.