Andrew continues his episodic history of Goodyear
After a huge renovation programme and fundraising operation, with a full thirteen employees, November 21st 1898 was the first day of Goodyear production. Bicycle tyres, rubber bands and poker chips were the original products. Goodrich had fire hoses, bottle stoppers and billiard cue-tips. Over in Europe, Michelin had pneumatic tyres fitted to cars in Paris.
Goodrich had managed to produce the air-filled tyre in 1896. Goodyear however were late to the party: 1903 with the straight sided tyre. An Akron farm boy named Harvey Firestone would become problematic. And the small matter of a Scottish vet caused the fledgling Wingfoot concern a mighty headache.
John Boyd Dunlop attempted to make his son’s bike run smoother. The solid rubber was good but could be made better… somehow. Air was the answer yet another fellow had deciphered such. Robert W Thompson had the principle of the pneumatic tyre patented in 1845 but on his death in 1873, this had been somehow forgotten.
Dunlop re-awakened the idea of the pneumatic tyre, thinking he was developing his own patents until the unknown Thompson’s patent came to light and opened up a freer market. Licenses, undercutting and ruthless tactics became the norm. Headaches continued.
Goodyear attempted licensing agreements, some successful, others festering in the courts, legal wrangling and all-out business war. Ironically, Michelin of all people had to pay Goodyear nearly $200,000 in royalties at one point due to complicated agreements. But sales, growth and profit grew, initially but a trickle, rapidly gaining momentum.
But aggressive tactics sometimes failed. The Single company had a patent to which Goodyear simply refused to honour. With Goodyear Selling thousands of bicycle tyres in one day alone in 1900 caused Single to pull the plug as the money wasn’t coming their way. Goodyear reacted with a two ply tyre with a strip of muslin in between. In time, the muslin was replaced by of all products, toilet paper; it did the job, cushioning ride.
Another instance of aggression being with The Consolidated Tire Company. Actually producing no tyres at all but through licensing arrangements they had become successful. Seiberling encountered a small difference; Goodyear’s had a flange to keep out dirt, Consolidated had not and Frank undercut Consolidated’s prices. As a defensive mechanism, Consolidated agreed to pay Goodyear $50,000 per month if Goodyear stopped undercutting prices. It worked. And Goodyear prospered.
Seiberling had local clout and determination by the truckload. His views and mindset were international. Hiring a totally opposite personality would improve the company’s prospects no-end. Step forward Paul Litchfield, a youthful, educated, analytical and future rubber industry giant.
Whereas Seiberling was a natural born salesman, Litchfield was the engineering, researching and production brain behind Goodyear , remaining with the company for nigh on sixty years. It was Litchfield who helped to develop an all weather tread pattern that was diamond shaped and also the use of cords to give tyres more flexibility and resistance to wear. He also found the North British Rubber Co. based in Edinburgh, who had a process for spreading molten rubber over fabric, perfect for the nascent aero industry. More on that later.
Litchfield moved heaven and earth to surpass the clincher tyre and its Association. Using brute force, crowbars and profanities, the rubber beading could eventually be stretched over the wheel rim. With the development of a wire braiding machine, the bead now locked firmly onto the rim. A flange aided fitting and the straight sided tyre would soon surpass the clincher.
Part three follows… Credits and sources – see part one.