Goodyear? For Some (Part One)

We rarely notice them, but they’re the only things which keep us in contact with the road surface. In a new series for DTW, Andrew Miles gets up to his neck in the black stuff.

Charles Goodyear offers a rubber napkin. (c) Flickr.com.

Charles Goodyear died in debt. Frank Seiberling did no such thing. What links the two is a story of endeavour, brutality, aggressive tactics and a whole host of honest “Ites”. Oh, and a rather large balloon.

The tyres on all our road vehicles today are, in the main, synthetic rubber * Oil and various chemical compounds are brewed together in order to conjure up those black round circles that enhance our safety and driving experience. Natural rubber derives from the Hevea brasiliensis plant, latex, found in warmer climes: Brazil, the Congo, vast areas of Asia planted by colonial profit seekers and has been known of for hundreds of years.

Charles Goodyear was the fellow who eventually, by trail, error and dogged determination, simultaneously putting his family and their finances through hell got Vulcanisation sorted: Add sulphur. The adaptation of rubber could now be moulded into many more financial ventures. Think how unpleasantly aromatic the Goodyear kitchen environment had been.

Sadly, as with many a rush to earn big bucks fast, thug tactics were used to acquire the latex and attempts to gloss over these heinous crimes did cause outcry for a while. But latex was wanted, needed. With money to be made, a thriving industry had fleets of ships returning their precious cargo. Bicycles were big news; everyone wanted a bike: every bike needed two tyres. Factor in replacements.

Finance and time were not on Goodyear’s side, his health suffered and he died in 1860 owing a fortune. Rubber continued to be a very difficult game to play in. The town of Akron, Ohio was not the birthplace of American tyres but in time would become the global centre for all things black and circular along with gaskets, coats, shoes and the bicycle industry.

With the car industry exponentially growing, rubber became a fiercely fought over product, garnering friends and enemies alike.  Benjamin Franklin Goodrich was a physician who turned to the rubber business but failed to make any impact in and around New York State. On hearing Akron were keen for enthusiastic businessmen to set up there, BF Goodrich moved and slowly prospered around 1870.

Frank Seiberling at his desk. (c) Goodyear corporate.com

One of Benjamin’s backers was John Seiberling, Frank’s father. The Seiberlings were successful. John has been Akron Board of Trade president and his son wanted his own slice of glory. Call it fate, call it luck but Frank had to wind up a business venture meaning a trip to Chicago in 1893. A meeting with an Akron business colleague, H C Nellis, there led to Seiberling buying a disused strawboard factory for $13,500, money coming from friends and family.

Frank Seiberling decided to enter the rubber industry. Named in honour of Charles Goodyear and incorporated on 29th August 1898, The Goodyear Tire and Rubber company’s first purchase was a 60 cent account book. First sale was ten cents worth of kindling wood! BF Goodrich had a very local competitor.

Part Two will follow shortly.

* this link shows how Goodyear develop the modern day tyre.

Most of the references in this series are from Maurice “Moe” O’Reilly’s book “The Goodyear Story” published 1983 by The Benjamin Company, with additions from the current Goodyear corporate website and the BBC.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

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