Around 975 Durex condoms are sold every minute. The global condom market is predicted to grow to over $11 billion by 2023, and Durex is in the privileged position of being the world’s most popular brand. Yet until recently, the young man who invented Durex’s mass-produced condom had been forgotten – even by the manufacturer itself.
The origins of Durex go back to the London Rubber Company, which began trading in 1915 and specialised in importing modern, disposable condoms for re-sale in Great Britain. In 1932 the firm underwent a game-changing switch from wholesaling to fabrication, when it started manufacturing in-house under the Durex brand. By the mid-1940s, London Rubber had the biggest production capacity in Britain, and by the mid-1960s, the world.
As a social historian with an interest in businesses, I had been intrigued by London Rubber ever since a friend pointed out the then-derelict factory in Chingford in the late 1990s, after production was moved to Asia. I was fascinated by the idea that thousands of ordinary Londoners made their living from condoms, and set about researching the topic for my PhD. Turning this work into a book gave me the opportunity to deepen my research.
The one question I really wanted to answer was who actually invented Durex condoms. They have long been attributed to a man called Lionel Alfred Jackson, a third-generation Russian-Jewish immigrant who founded London Rubber in 1915. It was Jackson who, in 1929, patented the Durex trademark (standing for “Durability, Reliability and Excellence”). But surely there was more to this story?
My style of research involves the painstaking examination of documents. But as no company archive for London Rubber is available to researchers, my investigation has involved forensic detective work, with discoveries often coming about through hunches.
The memorable name “Lucian Landau” had popped up in correspondence between London Rubber and the Family Planning Association (held at Wellcome Collection) and on patents. But Landau was not mentioned in the few official documents archived at Vestry House Museum, or in the company magazine London Image, which had been supplied to me by ex-London Rubber employee Angela Wagstaff. This piqued my interest: Landau must have been somebody important if he was on the patents.