On February 7, 1938, automotive industry pioneer Harvey Samuel Firestone, founder of the major American tire company that bore his name, dies at the age of 69 in Miami Beach, Florida.
Firestone was born on a farm near Columbiana, Ohio, on December 20, 1868. As a young man, he worked as a salesman for a buggy company and later became convinced that rubber carriage tires would provide a more comfortable ride than steel tires or wooden wheels. Around 1895, Firestone met a young engineer in Detroit named Henry Ford, who was developing his first automobile. Firestone sold Ford a set of rubber carriage tires, an event that marked the start of an important business relationship and friendship between the two men. In 1900, believing that the horse-and-buggy era was ending and the auto age beginning, Firestone incorporated the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. (Akron, which would come to be known as the world’s rubber capital, was also home to Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, founded in 1898, and B. F. Goodrich, established in 1870.) Firestone began producing its own tires in 1903 and three years later sold 2,000 sets of detachable tires to Henry Ford, in what was then the world’s largest tire order. In 1908, Ford launched his first factory-built Model T cars. (By the time production ended in 1927, more than 15 million Model T’s had come off the assembly line; it was the all-time best-selling car until 1972, when it was surpassed by the Volkswagen Beetle.)
By 1910, Firestone’s profits passed $1 million for the first time. The following year, the winner of the inaugural Indianapolis 500 auto race, Ray Harroun, drove a Marmon Wasp equipped with Firestone tires. By 1926, Firestone was manufacturing more than 10 million tires each year, which represented approximately 25 percent of America’s total tire output. Around this time, Firestone established its own rubber plantations in Liberia, Africa, in order to break free of Britain and the Netherlands, who controlled the rubber market through production in their Asian colonies.
Harvey Firestone retired in 1932 and died in 1938. In 1988, the Firestone company was acquired by Japan-based Bridgestone Corporation, a leading global tire manufacturer founded in 1931.