A Brief Biography of Harvey Firestone

Harvey Firestone

The "Millionaires Club" out fishing

Race Driver Ab Jenkins and Harvey Firestone on a Firestone equipped tractor

Firestone, Harvey Samuel (1868-1938), established the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company (now Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.) in Akron, Ohio, in 1900. Emerging as of the leading manufacturers of car and truck tires after 1906, Firestone's firm played a key role in putting America on wheels. As a supporter of the "Good Roads Movement" and the transcontinental Lincoln Highway, Firestone was known as an independent competitive businessman, who cut prices whenever possible and who shunned industry agreements. Serving as president of his company from 1903 to 1926, and chairman of the board of directors until his death on Feb. 7, 1938, he is remembered not only for his executive abilities, but also as a philanthropist whose gift made possible the Firestone Library at Princeton University.
After starting out as a bookkeeper and patent medicine salesman, in 1895 young Firestone became employed at his uncle's Columbus Buggy Company. Later he was employed as a manager at the Consolidated Rubber Tire Company, a leading manufacturer of carriage tires. Buggy tires were made of solid rubber, but after starting his own company and faced with the opportunity of supplying automobile tires to Henry Ford beginning 1906, he quickly gained expertise in the design and manufacture of pneumatic tires. Firestone's keen interest in technical progress resulted in several improvements, especially in the area of truck tires. The demonstration of the superiority of Firestone pneumatic tires over solid rubber tires during the 1919 transcontinental military truck convoy convincingly showed that trucks could transport goods cheaply and with flexibility over long distances. Later, in 1931, Firestone became the first to market a practical air-filled tire for farm machinery.
In 1926, Firestone, troubled by trade restrictions on the importation of rubber from British colonies, purchased a plantation in Liberia to produce rubber. In 1926, he signed an agreement with the Liberian government to lease 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) of land for the development of rubber plantations. He also made large loans to Liberia and built for it a new and improved harbor. Firestone also led in investigating the rubber resources of the Philippines and South America, and he encouraged American investment in rubber-growing countries. That interest led Firestone to also promote a search for alternative sources for natural rubber in the United States, primarily in Florida.
Firestone's relationship with Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company extended beyond one focused on business matters. Along with Thomas Edison and Ford, Firestone was a member of the so-called "Millionaires" Club, a group that frequently went on highly publicized camping trips between 1918 and 1924. Later, Firestone's Ohio boyhood home would be moved to Ford's Greenfield Village museum, and Henry Ford's grandson would marry Harvey Firestone's granddaughter. Thus, an agreement to supply tires for the Ford Model T at the beginning of the automobile age ultimately blossomed into the forging of long-standing family ties.
John A. Heitmann
University of Dayton


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