We conclude the Goodyear saga as the World once more lurched into global conflict.
Remaining with purchases and the War, Goodyear’s supply of natural rubber was severely depleted once the Japanese took control of the far-East. Previous to hostilities, experiments were undertaken to ascertain a supply of synthetic rubber. The US government had even constructed a Rubber Reserve should stock become depleted.
Goodyear scientists had in fact succeeded in making a synthetic compound, the delightfully named Chemigum which had a negative effect on natural rubber prices; the research all but stopped. The Germans also had a product called Buna-S which they showed off but were curiously Schtum as to its properties and production.
Chemigum and other synthetics became a priority with war looming. It also proved to be more durable and better performing than the German version. Car tyres would have to play second fiddle to the mechanics of war. And Goodyear cashed in. Employing a wide collection of those not deemed eligible or acceptable to fight, the war machine was on full song. The Wolverhampton factory was a juicy target for the Luftwaffe, just like their Coventry and West Bromwich neighbours who assisted with Spitfire manufacturing but continued to produce very healthy outputs.
One of the more bizarre but openly more humorous tales from the war being Goodyear’s input to the ruse of the Phantom Army. What better way to fool the enemy over tank and artillery numbers than produce a rubber lookalike? Prior to D-Day, the real stuff was nicely hidden. Hurriedly made in full scale with correct marking as a real tank would wear, these dummies could be inflated, placed accordingly, come night-time deflated and easily moved to the next location. “Just how many tanks do the Allies have, Oberleutnant?”
The factory workers apparently had no clue as what they were producing though making a balloon with a prominent ‘gun’ poking out front does make you wonder.
Peacetime brought more worries but the difference between the First and Second World War was diversity. Goodyear had moved on. The Atomic age, the space race and other lucrative government contracts kept the rubber along with cash flowing. Natural sources were still needed and Goodyear had invested heavily in vast plantations. These had become civilisations in their own right. Employing thousands, providing schools, hospitals, homes, workshops, clean water and internal transportation.
With safe passage for the latex, the Goodyearite who ran the plantation often had romantic or dramatic stories to tell. Deals in the desert, dodging tigers to deliver truck tyres, hard bargaining tribal leaders and dining in the finest of restaurants; but all under strict guidance from Akron.
Facing their biggest change, but brought about not by Goodyear but their French nemeses, Michelin, being the radial tyre. Initially dismissed by Akron, the writing was on the wall for the crossply as automobiles became ever more powerful. 1981 witnessed the Eagle tyre launch. Only six years later, the ZR-S arrives: tyres capable of over 149 mph as fitted to the Chevrolet Corvette.
Goodyear, not immune to strikes, desperation and turmoil over the years went on to own Dunlop, Sava and Fulda tyres. Michelin now have BF Goodrich and Uniroyal. Frank Seiberling died a wealthy philanthropist. Paul Litchfield lauded as Goodyear-ite through and through.
If by chance you were interested in visiting the Goodyear world of Rubber museum in Akron, sadly this closed ten years ago due to “no visitors for week after week.” Which is an indictment of the tyre as a whole. Those black circles with only a palms width patch to connect us to the tarmac, however pot-holed and broken are sadly neglected. Most people I know have no clue to their car’s tyre pressures or condition; their history is unknown, disregarded. Make? Round rubber thingy.
However difficult their story and regardless of make or brand, please look after your tyres. There’s an awful lot of substance behind them.