In the Shadow of ‘the Pill’: London Rubber Company, the Condom, & the Struggle for Contraceptive Supremacy in 1960s Britain

Jessica Borge

Contraception before the oral contraceptive, or the ‘Pill’, was largely a non-medical affair. A wide variety of commercial birth control devices – diaphragms, creams, condoms and other barriers - was readily available through mail-order and retail channels, with only a small number being prescribed by doctors. The condom was the most used contraceptive device in mid-20th Century Britain, and the London Rubber Company held the monopoly on production and distribution, which included its famous Durex brand. When the Pill came along in 1961, London Rubber was worried. But why? In what ways did the Pill pose a threat to London Rubber, and how did this affect the Company’s business practices and marketing strategy? This paper looks to disrupt the common view that the Pill superseded the condom largely on the basis of physical aesthetics, by explaining pre-existing barriers in the British contraceptive marketplace, and outlining how London Rubber fought back.