Firestone Tire and Rubber Company
The woman's touch is final. Double-checked after painting, finished tires pass before this woman to make sure they are perfect, that the sidewall markings are correct and clear. Firestone(General) Tires, Akron, Ohio
In 1900, Harvey S. Firestone established the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio.
Firestone relied on other companies to manufacture the rubber. His firm simply fastened the rubber to steel carriage wheels. In its first year of operation, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company grossed more than 100,000 dollars in profit. In 1903, the company began to manufacture rubber, and in 1904, the firm proceeded to develop pneumatic tires for automobiles. In 1905, Henry Ford placed his first order for tires from Firestone. Firestone immediately hired additional workers, raising the number of employees from one dozen to 130. The following year, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company produced more than twenty-eight thousand tires and sold more than one million dollars worth of tires. By 1910, the company manufactured more than one million tires. Firestone's innovations in tire design allowed automobiles to travel faster and more safely.
Firestone also became involved in producing tires for automobile racing. The first racecar to win the Indianapolis 500 in 1911 used Firestone tires. Between 1920 and 1966, every car that won the race used Firestone tires as well. The company also began to open automotive service stations, where customers could purchase tires and other items for their cars. From 1928 to 1964, Firestone also sponsored a weekly radio program titled the "Voice of Firestone." All of these activities helped to make Firestone a household name by the mid-twentieth century.
While the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company prospered, its workers sometimes suffered. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, factory workers faced poor working conditions, low wages, and almost no benefits. This was true for the workers employed by rubber manufacturers in Akron, Ohio, such the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, B.F. Goodrich, and Firestone. In an attempt to alleviate their conditions, workers established a union named the United Rubber Workers in 1935. The following year, this union organized its first major strike within Akron's rubber industry.
The strike began as a protest against a plan created by Goodyear to reduce wages and increase the pace of production. The workers utilized the concept of the "sit-down" strike. In the past, when workers went on strike they would leave the factory to join picket lines. Company owners often hired "scab" laborers to cross the picket lines and continue production. The practice of using scab labor made it difficult for striking workers to obtain their demands. In contrast, in a sit-down strike, workers quit working but still occupied their places within the factory. This process meant that the factory owners could not send in additional workers to continue the job. In addition, factory management was more reluctant to use private security forces or other strikebreakers to intimidate the striking workers, as that approach threatened destruction to plant property.
In addition to the sit-down strike, the rubber workers also organized long picket lines in protest. Akron's mayor, Lee D. Schroy, attempted to send in the police to put down the strike, but the police officers refused to do so when they faced the thousands of organized workers. In the long term, the rubber companies were forced to recognize the United Rubber Workers and negotiate better contracts with workers. One immediate success was a six-hour workday.
Several reasons existed for the workers' success in this strike. First, sit-in strikes made it much more difficult for employers to replace their striking workers. Equally as important in this strike was the federal government's recent passage of the Wagner Act. This legislation made unions legal for the first time in United States history. Finally, the United Rubber Workers belonged to a larger organization, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The CIO consisted of an umbrella organization for multiple unions. These unions worked together by providing both moral and material support to CIO-member unions, especially when these member unions went on strike.
In 1988, the Bridgestone Corporation, a Japanese Company, purchased Firestone. Bridgestone is involved in tire manufacturing on an international scale, making the corporation one of the largest of its kind in the world.
- Lief, Alfred. The Firestone Story: A History of the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company. N.p.: Whittlesey House, 1951.
- Lief, Alfred. Harvey Firestone: Free Man of Enterprise. N.p.: McGraw-Hill, 1951.
- Cashman, Sean. America in the Gilded Age. N.p.: NYU Press, 1993.
- Chandler, Alfred D., Jr. The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. N.p.: Belknap Press, 1993.
- Dyer, Joyce. Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town. Akron, OH: University of Akron Press, 2003.
- Murdock, Eugene. Buckeye Empire: An Illustrated History of Ohio Enterprise. N.p.: Windsol, 1988.
- Painter, Nell Irwin. Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the Progressive Era. N.p.: W.W. Norton, 2008.
- Porter, Glenn. The Rise of Big Business, 1860-1920. N.p.: Harlan Davidson, 2006.