Hard to Swallow

Illustration for TIME by Keith Negley

One evening in the 1930s, Henry Ford wore a new suit to a gala dinner he was throwing at his Dearborn, Mich., car factory. The suit, reportedly, was soft to the touch. It was also made from soybean fiber.

The automobile baron was nursing an obsession with all the possible uses of a crop that was then being planted throughout post-Depression America. The gala guests that night were served only soy-based food, and Ford regularly tried to incorporate the pulse into cars, using it for everything from upholstery fabric to experimental paneling. What Ford...

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