The story of Goodyear tyres

  • Author: OPONEO.CO.UK

In ancient Greek mythology, there was a god, Hermes, known for wearing winged sandals. Thanks to their speed, Hermes was able to move from one place to another faster than anyone else. Hundreds of years have passed since then and now the winged sandals have been exchanged for tyres. Don’t get us wrong, however, as Goodyear tyres still come with a winged foot.

The logo of Goodyear Tyres

The Logo of Goodyear Tyres

A portrait of Goodyear's founder

A portrait of Goodyear’s founder

Goodyear old advert

The idea of a logo featuring the mythical patron of travellers (as well as the traditional bringer of good news) came from the founder of Goodyear himself, Frank Seiberling. His favourite work of art was a statue of Hermes that stood in his home’s hallway in Akron. The winged foot symbol was first used for the brand in 1901, featuring in an advertisement within the Saturday Evening Post. Today, this mark represents one of the three greatest superpowers of the global tyre industry.
 
While Hermes may have given the firm its symbol, its name was bequeathed by Charles Goodyear, an American businessman who laid the foundations for the contemporary rubber industry. In 1839, he invented a technology for producing rubber and, 5 years later, he patented a method for its vulcanisation.
 
In spite of these achievements, Goodyear died in poverty in 1860, but his memory was honoured 4 decades later, in 1896, when the aforementioned Frank Seiberling decided to new his new firm the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.

The old factory and a Goodyear’s advert

The old factory and a Goodyear’s advert

With his brother-in-law’s help

Goodyear’s headquarters.

Goodyear’s headquarters.

Seiberling was able to make his first investments thanks to a loan from his brother-in-law. Starting with his modest plant in East Akron, Ohio, the firm produced tyres for bicycles and carriages, pads for horseshoes, fire hoses, gaskets and even poker chips.

At the time, Seiberling couldn’t even have dreamt about heading a large corporation. He originally hired just 13 employees and the transportation of rubber and cotton from distant parts of the world was made difficult by a poorly developed railway infrastructure and a lack of sea access. Nonetheless, the winged foot of Hermes soon began to bring better and better news. In just a few months after Goodyear produced its first bicycle tyre, the business had rapidly become one of the most important in the industry.

Equally successful was Goodyear’s entry into the rapidly developing market for car tyres. In 1907, Seiberling opened a new factory in Detroit which produced, among other products, tyres for Henry Ford’s latest car, the Model T. By the end of the decade, Goodyear’s annual sales had risen to over 4 million dollars and tyres carrying the winged foot symbol were fitted onto one out of every three American cars. The brand could therefore advertise itself without any need for false modesty or pretense: “More people ride on Goodyear tyres than on any other kind.”

Among its models was the All-Weather Tread - the first anti-skid tyre with a diamond-shaped tread - designed for driving in all types of weather. This was launched onto the market by Goodyear in 1908. In 1917, the company confirmed the all-terrain capabilities of its tyres, when it sent a truck called the Wingfoot Express on a challenging journey from Akron to Boston. This was the first test of its kind in the history of the motor industry.

A Nobel Prize for Flory

One of Goodyear’s older adverts

One of Goodyear’s older adverts

A few years before this, the company had started a new chapter in its history when its engineers developed the first pneumatic tyres for aircraft. This replaced the runners and bicycle tyres that had been used up until this point in the aviation industry. Until the start of the Second World War, Goodyear practically had a monopoly on the production of airships in the United States, although this market collapsed following the infamous Hindenburg disaster. Later on, the company built strikingly-designed airships only for “entertainment” purposes. Today, Goodyear airships (including the Spirit of America, Spirit of Goodyear and Spirit of Innovation) remain an important part of the promotional strategy of the American brand.
Goodyear has always had plenty to promote about itself.

In 1926, it was the world’s largest producer of tyres and rubber. Already, the company’s products were sold on nearly every continent and its annual turnover had reached $250 million. In 1934, Goodyear presented its first winter studded tyre and, three years later, introduced America’s first tyre made of synthetic rubber. The company’s vigorous growth was not stopped by the outbreak of the Second World War, as the American army needed dinghies, lifejackets and many other accessories made of rubber - this, of course, included tyres.

In 1943 Goodyear opened a research division, which patented dozens of inventions with key important for the motor industry and beyond. For example, the firm’s scientists developed a material which is used in medicine to make both artificial joints and heart valves. They also invented the first continuous process for the production of mercaptobenzothiazole (MBT), a vulcanisation accelerator that gives connected rubber exceptional durability and greater resistance to damage. The research department was also an experimental testing ground for figures including Paul Flory, winner of the Nobel Prize for chemistry.


Designing and production Goodyear tyres.

Designing and production Goodyear tyres.

At the speed of sound

Apollo landing craft, fitted with Goodyear tyres

Apollo landing craft,
fitted with Goodyear tyres

In 1959, Goodyear was able to boast about another success. Tyres with the winged foot symbol were used by Mickey Thompson when he broke the American land speed record. On a dry lake bed in Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, Thompson achieved a speed of 329.94 mph (531 km/h). Five years later his record was bettered by Craig Breedlove, also using Goodyear tyres, when he became the first man to break the sound barrier (Mach 1) with a speed of 745.64 mph (1200 km/h). Along with its successive record-breaking achievements, the company was also able to celebrate the production of its billionth tyre.

It soon turned out that neither the earth or the air were enough for the winged tyres. In 1970 they landed on the moon, as the Apollo 14 landing craft was fitted with Goodyear XLT tyres. In spite of the exceptional nature of this event, however, the company’s priority remained with the roads and off-road terrain here on Earth. In 1977, Goodyear developed the first multi-season radial tyre, the Tiempo. Ten years later, it introduced the competitive ZR-S tyre, suited to speeds of over 149.12 mph (240 km/h). This was followed by the Aquatred tyre in 1992, which features a unique deep groove for removing water.

Further innovations included the world’s first puncture-resistant run-flat tyre, the infinitred tyre sold with a lifetime guarantee against tread wear and the EMT series with increased mobility technology.

Winter tyres being tested.

Winter tyres being tested.

Akron - the rubber capital of the world 

Apart from tyres, Goodyear also built up a strong position over many years as a manufacturer of other products. These included chemical materials, natural and synthetic rubber, transmission belts and v-belts, industrial hoses and various construction materials. Almost from the start of its existence, the brand has been closely associated with motor sports. Its 368 race, 25 drivers’ championships and 26 constructor’s championships victories in only 34 seasons are records for Formula 1.

Alongside this is the company’s similar success in both NASCAR racing and the 4x4 Eco-Challenge rallies. On a similar theme to sporting competition, you can also look at the crazy driving seen in the successive adventures of Batman - the tyres for his Batmobile are supplied by Goodyear.

Today, a fifth of all the tyres sold throughout the world carry the winged foot logo or come from firms belonging to the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. The Goodyear group is a powerful force in the market for tyres - for both cars and goods vehicles - and its products are manufactured at 85 plants all over the world and are sold in 190 countries.
The group now incorporates other brands, including Dunlop, Debica, Fierce, Sava, Kelly and Fulda car tyres. However, its headquarters are still in the place where, over a hundred years ago, the winged business idea was dreamt up by Frank Seiberling. It was this precise moment that made Akron the rubber capital of the world.

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