On February 7, 1938, a man by the name of Harvey S. Firestone died of coronary thrombosis—or, a blood clot in the heart. He was the founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, which he kicked off back in 1900. And he couldn’t have known how important his company would be to the American auto industry.
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Firestone was one of The Vagabonds, the name adopted by the triumvirate of Firestone, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison—so you knew he was in good company. In fact, he had the benefit of existing at a pretty sweet time in history, back when the auto industry was first really kicking off and suddenly there were a ton of new money-making opportunities.
Which is kind of how Firestone became the name it is today. After graduating from his Columbiana, Ohio high school, Firestone got a job at the Columbus Buggy Company that made horse-drawn carriages before eventually easing into the automotive world. Firestone saw the potential in the rubber portion of the whole deal, so he set up his own company making rubber tires for carriages in 1890 before he established Firestone Tire and Rubber Company ten years later.
Firestone was one of the first people who saw the value in the mass production of tires. Instead of automakers having to create their own tires in-house, he could take on the brunt of the work and sell it to those car manufacturers, saving them time.
But Firestone didn’t want to take the easy route. He set up camp in Akron, Ohio, where he was up against some stiff competition: Goodyear, General Tire and Rubber, and BFGoodrich. At the time, Goodyear was pretty much the company to beat, which is exactly what Firestone attempted to do. And, six years after its founding, Ford commissioned Firestone to supply tires to all of his cars. It pays to have friends in high places.
But it wasn’t just his good friends that made Firestone a success. Among other inventions, the company rolled out:
- Non-skid tread with raised rubber for better grip
- Double cord breakers to better distribute air pressure throughout the tire
- Gum-dipping to make the tires more robust
- Pneumatic suspension device that eliminated body roll and absorbed bumps on the road
After that, Firestone continued to make a name for his company when Firestone tires won the Indy 500 in 1911 and again, every single year from 1920 to 1966. It provided tires to Formula One. It served as a key manufacturer during World War II. Things were pretty damn good until the late 1980s when, hemorrhaging money, Firestone was sold to Bridgestone.
Firestone—the founder—died in 1938 at the age of 69, six years after having stepped down from his company. He wouldn’t live to see most of his company’s accomplishments, but he could rest easy knowing he’d done a damn good job changing the face of the automotive world for centuries to come.