The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company was founded in 1900 by Harvey Firestone and was based in Akron, Ohio which was also the home of major competitors Goodyear. The organisation began by manufacturing tyres for horse drawn carriages from rubber which was supplied by other organisations but Firestone soon moved into producing their own rubber and over the course of a century expanded to become a huge worldwide corporation manufacturing a diverse range of rubber based products.
Harvey Firestone was a friend of Henry Ford and used this relationship to position Firestone as providers of tyres to the Ford Motor Company who were achieving great commercial success with their Model T motor car. In 1919 the company was incorporated in Canada and in 1928 built a factory in London. Firestone also achieved great success with racing tyres and During World War II the company produced armaments for the US Government. For 75 years Firestone and Goodyear dominated the tire market, but trouble was ahead. In the 1960’s rivals Michelin and Goodrich developed radial tyres which began to dominate the market. The Firestone executives were slow to react to the new developments in the industry with Firestone’s first radial, the Firestone 500 Radial not being produced until 1971.Unfortunately the tyre was not only late in coming to the market but also soon started to show signs of separation of the tread at high speeds. This problem appeared to be caused by water penetrating the tyre and corroding the steel wires within. In 1977 400,000 tyres were recalled and in 1978 7 million were recalled, the largest tyre recall in history. The tyres were later found to be responsible for 34 deaths.
Repairing the Damage
The terrible issues with the radial tyres caused a serous downturn in the fortunes of Firestone with the company eventually being over $1 billion in debt. In 1979 the company was subject to a major restructuring resulting in the closure of 9 manufacturing centres worldwide, six in just one day, in an attempt to rescue the organisation from imminent collapse. The measures were successful and Firestone then began to diversify using its experience in rubber based polymers to move into building products and roofing materials. The first Firestone EPDM roof was installed in 1980 and is still in use today. Firestone Building products has expanded to operate 21 plants manufacturing a range of products including rubber membranes, thermoplastic membranes, adhesives and waterproofing membranes.
The restructuring and diversification of Firestone resulted in renewed commercial success and in 1988 the organisation was sold to Japanese giants Bridgestone, although at a price considerably lower than the value of the organisation before its troubles began. The company was then subject to further restructuring but although part of Bridgestone, The Firestone Branding was retained for the majority of its products. Firestone continued to be world leaders in roofing technology developing a highly regarded brand manufacturing revolutionary products which lead the market to this day.