What does the 1910 Ford Model T, the 2019 Jeep Cherokee, the 1911 Marmon Wasp race car, and the 2019 Penske-Chevrolet race car have in common? Aside from the fact that the Ford and the Jeep are vehicles you can buy from the dealership and the two race cars won the Indianapolis 500, they have nothing much in common… except for the fact that they all roll on Firestone tires.
One of the world’s oldest and most popular tire brand will celebrate 120 years of continuous operation this year. Let us take a look at the highlights – the glorious successes and the stinging tribulations – that made Firestone one of the most enduring tire brands to date.
1900 The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company is founded by Harvey Samuel Firestone in Akron, Ohio on August 3, 1900 with 12 employees. The company is formed to supply solid rubber side-wire tires for fire apparatus, and later, pneumatic tires for wagons, buggies, and other forms of wheeled transportation common in the era.
1906 Harvey Firestone establishes a personal friendship with Henry Ford. Firestone pioneers the mass production of tires and becomes the original equipment supplier of automobile tires for the Ford Motor Company. The company also becomes active in the replacement tire market.
1911 A Marmon Wasp race car running Firestone tires and driven by Ray Harroun wins the first Indianapolis 500 auto race on May 30, 1911. All winners of the Indy 500 races from 1920 to 1966 would win on Firestone tires.
1918 Firestone ventures into the Canadian tire market with the establishment of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company of Canada in Hamilton, Ontario.
1920 Firestone produces the Oldfield tire, named after racing driver Barney Oldfield, who’s also known as “The Speed Limit”.
1922 The first Canadian-made Firestone tire rolls off the line on September 15, 1922.
1926 The company establishes the Firestone Natural Rubber plantation in Harbel, Liberia. Spanning more than one million acres (1,560 square miles or 4,050 square kilometers), it becomes the largest rubber plantation in the world.
1926 The first Firestone Tire and Service Center is opened in the United States. Later renamed as the Firestone Complete Auto Care, it offers automotive maintenance and repair, including tires sales and service.
1927 Firestone opens a new manufacturing plant on a 40-acre (16-hectare) bean field in South Gate, Los Angeles, California. The factory will double in size just a year later.
1928 Firestone builds a factory in Brentford, England, which becomes an Art Deco landmark on a major route into the city.
1936 Firestone opens a plant in Memphis, Tennessee. With a work force exceeding 3,000 employees, the Memphis plant becomes the largest tire manufacturer in the company’s worldwide operation.
1938 Harvey Samuel Firestone, the company founder, dies in his Florida estate, aged 69.
1941 A fire hits the Firestone Rubber and Latex plant in Fall River, Massachusetts on October 11, 1941 and destroys 5 out of 8 buildings and at least 15,000 tons of rubber and causes $12 million in damages ($205 million in 2019 dollars).
1942 Firestone is called on by the U.S. Government to supply the war effort with artillery shells, aluminum kegs for food transport, plastic helmet liners, barrage balloons and rubberized military products. Firestone was ranked 55th among U.S. corporations in the value of wartime military production contracts.
1950 Firestone, along with General Motors and Standard Oil, is convicted of criminal conspiracy for their part in the Great American Streetcar Scandal, where streetcar systems throughout the United States were purchased and dismantled, and then replaced with buses.
1950 Firestone starts providing racing tires to Formula 5000 and Formula One.
1951 Firestone gets the defense contract to build the 200 MGM-5 Corporal missile units for $6,888,796. The MGM-5 Corporal is a surface-to-surface guided missile which could deliver a high-explosive warhead up to 75 nautical miles (140 kilometers).
1954 The Firestone South Gate factory grows to nearly one million square feet (23 acres or 9.3 hectares). The town grew around the Firestone plant and named its main road, Firestone Boulevard, named after the company founder. L.A. becomes the Number One tire market in the country.
1961 Firestone buys the Dayton Tire division from the Dayco Corporation.
1963 Firestone celebrates the production of 100 million tires in its Memphis plant on July 1, 1963.
1971 The company introduces the Firestone 500 Radial tires to rival B.F. Goodrich and Michelin radial tires. Because of costs considerations, the radial tires are produced on molds and machines that make bias-ply tires.
1972 Firestone invests in a tire manufacturing plant in Kenya, East Africa and receives a ten-year import concession from the Kenyan government.
1973 Firestone introduces strict quality control measures in an attempt to fix the inherent problems of the Firestone 500 Radial tires.
1974 Firestone announces its complete withdrawal from professional motorsports at the end of the season and cites rising costs as the primary reason.
1975 With labor strikes experienced by General Motors and Ford, Firestone opens new manufacturing plants in non-union locales like Wilson, North Carolina.
1977 Firestone recalls 400,000 tires produced at the problematic Decatur plant.
1978 Firestone recalls over 7 million Firestone 500 Radial tires, the largest tire recall to date. The U.S. Congress starts public hearings about the tire, which was alleged to be defective and the cause of 250 deaths. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducts a formal investigation of the Firestone 500.
1979 The Firestone factory in Brentford, England is closed.
1979 Firestone hires John Joseph Nevin, the former head of Zenith Electronics, as president to save the hemorrhaging company from total collapse. Firestone was more than a billion dollars in debt at the time and was losing $250 million a year. To boost the stock price of the company and make the company financially solvent, Nevin closed 9 of Firestone’s 17 manufacturing plants, relocated the company from Akron to Chicago, and sold non-tire related businesses, including the Firestone Country Club.
1980 After considerable downsizing, the Firestone South Gate plant is closed and 1,300 workers were laid off. East Los Angeles College proposes a new satellite campus at the site.
1980 The NHTSA fines Firestone US$500,000, which is the largest fine imposed on any U.S. corporation and the largest civil penalty imposed since passage of the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Act. Multiple lawsuits are settled out of court and the constant negative publicity cripples Firestone’s sales and share prices.
1982 The Firestone plant in Memphis, Tennessee is closed.
1988 The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company is sold to the Bridgestone Corporation of Japan.
1990 Firestone evacuates its American workers in Liberia, West Africa after rebel forces seized the Harbel plantation during the country’s civil war.
1992 Firestone resumes operations of its Harbel plantation in Liberia in March but ceases operations in October as hostilities escalate.
1995 Firestone returns to motorsports through the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) racing series with technical assistance from Bridgestone.
1996 Several state agencies in Arizona experiences major issues with Firestone tires mounted on Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Firestone conducted an investigation of the complaints, tested the tires, and asserted that the tires had been abused or under-inflated.
2000 After Goodyear withdrew from motorsports, Firestone is left as the single supplier of racing tires for the IndyCar Series.
2000 Firestone recalls Wilderness AT, Firestone ATX and ATX II tires after receiving reports of causing roll-over accidents with the Ford Explorer.
2001 Bridgestone/Firestone severs its ties to the Ford Motor Company citing a lack of trust, which stemmed from concerns that Ford did not heed warnings by Firestone relating to the design of the Explorer.
2003 Firestone restarts operations of its Harbel plantation in Liberia after the end of the Second Liberian Civil War. Firestone has invested over $100 million in restoring and rebuilding its facilities in Liberia, which attracted controversies and conspiracy theories.
2006 Firestone announces renewed efforts to recall Wilderness AT, Firestone ATX and ATX II tires that were recalled in 2000 after the tires were linked to recent deaths and injuries.
2008 Bridgestone/Firestone celebrates the 20th anniversary of their merger and changes the tire division name to Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations.
2012 Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations opens a $100 million technical center in Akron, Ohio.
2017 Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations moves their corporate office to Nashville, Tennessee.
2018 Bridgestone/Firestone celebrates the 30th anniversary of their merger with the reintroduction of Firestone tires in the Philippines through Philippine Allied Enterprises Corporation (PAEC), the country’s exclusive distributor of Bridgestone tires. Initial offerings include the Firestone FS100 passenger car tires, followed by the FS555 commercial vehicle and truck tires.
2020 Firestone tires mark 120 years of production on August 3, 2020.
Indeed, Firestone has experienced unparalleled successes as well as painful setbacks throughout its 120 years of operations. Through it all, the Firestone brand has endured and thrived under its partnership with Bridgestone.
Apart from tires, Firestone operates several companies and divisions, including Firestone Complete Auto Care, Firestone Natural Rubber Company, Firestone Specialty Products, Firestone Building Products, and Firestone Industrial Products. The building and industrial products divisions generate annual sales that exceed $2.5 billion and provide employment for 11,000 workers worldwide.
In the Philippines, Firestone tires are distributed by Philippine Allied Enterprises Corporation (PAEC) through its numerous Bridgestone/Firestone tire dealers nationwide.