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Firestone Tire and Rubber Company

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The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company is an American tire company founded by Harvey Firestone in 1900 to supply pneumatic tires for wagons, buggies, and other forms of wheeled transportation common in the era. Firestone soon saw the huge potential for marketing tires for automobiles. The company was a pioneer in the mass production of tires. Harvey Firestone had a friendship with Henry Ford. Firestone used this relationship to become the original equipment supplier of Ford Motor Company automobiles, and was also active in the replacement market. In 1988, the company was sold to the Japanese Bridgestone Corporation.

Early/mid 20th century: Firestone was originally based in Akron, Ohio, also the hometown of its archrival, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. The company initiated operations in 1900 with 12 employees. Together, Firestone and Goodyear were the largest suppliers of automotive tires in North America for over three-quarters of a century. For information on Firestone car tires please check Firestone car tires. In 1906 Firestone was chosen by Henry Ford for the Model T.

In 1919, Firestone Tire and Rubber Company of Canada was incorporated in Hamilton, Ontario and in 1922, the first Canadian-made tire rolled off the line on September 15. During the '20s, Firestone produced the Oldfield tire, named for racing driver Barney Oldfield. At one point, the company had a rubber plantation in Liberia that covered more than 4,000 square kilometers (1 million acres). The company sponsored The Voice of Firestone on the radio beginning on December 1928. The program was transferred to television as an NBC simulcast on 5 September 1949. The last broadcast was in 1963.

In 1928 the company built a factory in Brentford, England, for long an Art Deco landmark on a major route into the city. This closed in 1979. During World War II the company was called on by the U.S. Government to make artillery shells, aluminum kegs for food transport and other rubberized military products. For information on rubber please check rubber. In the 1940s, Firestone was given a defense contract to produce plastic helmet liners. While outproduced by Westinghouse Electric they still made a fair amount for the M1 Helmet.

In 1951, Firestone was given the defense contract for the MGM-5 Corporal missile. Firestone was given a total of US$6,888,796 for the first 200 Missiles. This missile was known as the "Embryo of the Army" and was a surface-to-surface guided missile which could deliver a high explosive warhead up to 75 nautical miles (139 km). It was later modified to be able to carry a nuclear payload for use in the event of Cold War hostilities in Eastern Europe. This missile was replaced in 1962 by the MGM-29 Sergeant system. In 1961, Firestone acquired the Dayton Tire division from the Dayco Corporation.

Restructuring and sale to Bridgestone: In late 1979, Firestone brought in John Nevin, the ex-head of Zenith Electronics, as president to save the hemorrhaging company from total collapse. It was more than a billion dollars in debt at the time, and losing 250 million dollars a year. Nevin closed nine of the company's seventeen manufacturing plants, including six in one day. He moved the company from its ancestral home in Akron to Chicago. He spun off non-tire related businesses, including the Firestone Country Club. It was considered a deliberate plan to boost the stock price, and it paid off. In 1988 after discussions with Pirelli, Nevin negotiated the sale of the company to the Japanese company Bridgestone. Bridgestone Corporation Japan was able to buy the company for much less than it had been worth a decade and a half earlier. The combined Bridgestone / Firestone North American operations are now based in Nashville, Tennessee.

Apart from tires, Firestone operates several businesses under the Firestone Diversified Products umbrella. For information on Goodyear tire please check Goodyear tire. These companies include Firestone Building Products, Firestone Industrial Products Company, Firestone Complete Auto Care, Firestone Natural Rubber Company and Firestone Specialty Products. Firestone Diversified Products is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana and operates in 23 U.S. states and ten countries, with 11,000 employees worldwide. Annually, the company reports annual sales of more than $2.5 billion.

In 1972 Firestone received a ten year import "concession" by the Kenyan government to secure Firestone's investment in a domestic tire plant, which gave it a virtual monopoly. This included both general price and foreign exchange controls. When the ten year period came to an end in 1979, Firestone retaliated by increasing production, making entry less attractive. Headquarters eventually canceled expansion and failed negotiations lead to no further investments.

Corporate troubles

Great American streetcar scandal: In 1950, Firestone along with General Motors and Standard Oil were charged and convicted of criminal conspiracy for their part in the Great American streetcar scandal. The scandal included purchasing streetcar systems throughout the United States and dismantling and replacing them with buses.

Firestone 500 tread separation problem: Radial tires were introduced to the US market by rivals Goodrich and Michelin in the late 1960s, and Firestone lacked their own product line. The first radial tire developed and produced by Firestone was the ill-fated Firestone 500 Radial. Manufacturing of the new tire was performed on equipment designed to manufacture bias-ply tires.

During the 1970s, Firestone experienced major problems with the Firestone 500 radial. The Firestone 500 steel-belted radials began to show signs of separation of the tread at high speeds. While the cause was never proved, it is believed that the failure of bonding cements, used by Firestone to hold the tread to the tire carcass, may have allowed water to penetrate the tire which in turn may have caused the internal steel wire to corrode. In March 1978, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced publicly a formal investigation into defects of the Firestone 500. The NHTSA investigation found that the tread separation problem was most probably a design defect affecting all Firestone 500's.

In 1973, only two years after the 500's debut, Thomas A. Robertson, Firestone's director of development wrote an internal memo stating "We are making an inferior quality radial tire which will subject us to belt-edge separation at high mileage".

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