During the twentieth century the United States developed a unique kind of empire, one bound together less by military conquest and direct political administration than by the expansion of markets, corporate influence, and cultural exchange. The political and economic ties between the United States and the Republic of Liberia, cemented in the 1920s when the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company successfully established a major rubber plantation in the country, exemplify this new imperial relationship. Yet the transformation of Liberia into the United States' rubber empire depended on new tools of seeing and new forms of scientific and medical expertise. Through a focus on the Harvard African Expedition to Liberia in 1926, the motion-picture record it gathered, and the place of rubber as a precious commodity in the global economy, this article investigates the relationships among science, business, and the state in the economic transformation of nature and a nation.

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