Close to Home – The History Of Ohio Tire Manufacturing

July 10th, 2020 by

A closeup shows several tires.

McCluskey Chevy’s home state of Ohio has a deep connection with many aspects of the automobile industry. However, the part the area has played in tire manufacturing is perhaps both its most important and one of its least-known stories. Today, South Carolina holds the title of the number one tire producing state, but in the beginning, it was Ohio that led the way. In fact, all of the major American tire manufacturers, including Goodyear, B.F. Goodrich, Firestone, and Cooper, were originally founded in this state. This unmatched concentration of tire shops meant that for years Akron, Ohio, was the active center of the global tire industry and was known as the “Rubber Capital of the World.” While the reasons for the growth of the tire industry in Ohio were more a matter of luck than any particular advantages, it is indisputable that our home state is the birthplace of the American tire shop.

Rubber in Ohio

The story of Ohio and tires actually begins years before the automobile was even invented. In 1870, Dr. Benjamin Franklin Goodrich decided that he needed to relocate his failing Hudson River Rubber Company from New York to greener pastures. After considering several different cities, a $13,600 grant (equivalent to around a quarter-million dollars in today’s money) from the Akron, Ohio Board of Trade convinced him to move his tire shop there. Since he was no longer on the Hudson River, he renamed his business to the B. F. Goodrich Company, and from this simple beginning, a new hub of rubber manufacturing was formed. As automobiles began growing in popularity, the B. F. Goodrich Company was joined in 1898 by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and in 1900 by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. Although named for Charles Goodyear, the Goodyear Company was actually founded by Frank Seiberling and had no connection to the inventor of vulcanized rubber.

In the early 1900s, the ever-expanding market for tires led to even more major tire companies opening their doors in Akron, Ohio. What became the Cooper Tire and Rubber Company was started in 1914, the General Tire and Rubber Company was founded in 1915, and the Seiberling Rubber Company in 1921. This last manufacturer was founded by the same Frank Seiberling behind Goodyear, who had resigned his position at that company after it was reorganized.

Together, these large manufacturers, along with additional smaller shops, made Akron the “Rubber Capital of the World” as well as one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. Some of the companies even built new sections of the city to accommodate all of their employees, resulting in neighborhoods such as Goodyear Heights and Firestone Park that continue to bear their names today.

A closeup of a map shows the town of Akron, OH.

A closeup of a map shows the town of Akron, OH.

Ohio Innovation

When cars were first invented in the late 1800s, they did not have tires as we know them. Instead, they rode directly on their wheels, which were protected by an iron or solid rubber rim, just like the horse-drawn wagons of the day. But while these designs were simple, rugged, and perfectly serviceable for wagons, they were not well suited to the higher speeds of automobiles. The idea of an air-filled pneumatic tire for improved ride quality was actually invented around the same time as the first automobiles, but the invention was only intended for use on bicycles.

It took a few years for the technology to migrate to heavier cars, but pneumatic tires rapidly replaced the older wheel designs after André, and Édouard Michelin (founders of the Michelin tire company) demonstrated their advantages in the 1895 Paris-Bordeaux road race. However, these earliest automotive tires looked nothing like modern car tires, and several innovations from Ohio’s tire manufacturers were critical in moving the technology forward. One of the first issues was that the original tires were completely smooth. And while this can work in good conditions or at slower speeds, it resulted in problems when trying to drive faster cars in bad conditions. To solve this, Frank Seibring of Goodyear invented the tire tread in 1908.

The Ohio tire industry also moved tire technology forwards during their invaluable contributions to the American victory in World War II. In addition to providing tires for military vehicles from trucks to airplanes, American engineers from B.F. Goodrich, Goodyear, and Firestone revolutionized the production of synthetic rubber. Up until then, tires were still made entirely from natural rubber collected from rubber trees, which did not even grow in the United States of America.

Most of the rubber trees were actually located in Southeast Asia, and the early conquests of the Japanese Empire cut off 90% of America’s natural rubber supply. While early synthetic rubber had been produced by Germany during World War I in response to its own rubber shortages, that process was expensive and the product inferior, resulting in its being abandoned when the shortage ended. But through the cooperation of the American Ohio tire manufacturers, new processes were developed that were the equal of natural rubber, and by the end of the war, American synthetic rubber production had overtaken pre-war natural rubber production. As a result of that work, today synthetic rubber has largely replaced natural rubber in tires.

A row of tires are shown on the bottom half of the image in a Cincinnati tire shop.

A row of tires are shown on the bottom half of the image in a Cincinnati tire shop.

Missteps and Decline

With all of this growth and innovation, the Ohio tire shops had fate on their side. However, in the 1960s, they misjudged the market and did not adapt quickly to foreign tire developments. Dating back to the early days of cars, tires had used a simple bias-ply construction. This was easy to produce and resulted in a soft and comfortable ride. But in 1946, Michelin again revolutionized the tire world with the introduction of the new radial tire. These tires were more durable and improved handling and fuel economy, making them a clear winner that soon took over the European car market.

However, the Ohio tire manufacturers decided to continue improving the basic bias-ply design instead of adopting the new technology. This resistance to change hurt many of the American tire shops, particularly Firestone. While larger companies like Goodyear had the money to invest in new equipment to produce radial tires, Firestone tried to cut costs by repurposing their bias-ply machines. This resulted in a defective design with tread separation problems that ultimately led to the largest tire recall in history and the sale of the company to Japan’s Bridgestone.

While the decline of Ohio’s other tire producers was not as dramatic as that of Firestone, their reluctance to move forward caused their market share to shrink dramatically as more foreign tire manufacturers began selling their products in the United States. In the end, low profits in tires even caused the original American tire shop, B.F. Goodrich, to diversify into other markets and eventually leave the tire business altogether. And while Goodyear and Cooper remain headquartered in Ohio, much of their former production has now been moved to other states or overseas.

Different Types of Tires Are Needed for Different Drivers

Different tire types are needed for different purposes, which is why you should select the right kind of sets for your car when it’s time to head to a tire shop to pick up new treads. While some people may think that any tire will do, the fact is that tires need to match the environment you are using them in. For example, someone who lives in an area that gets snow is going to need a different type of tire than someone who lives where the air is warm all year round. So, what tires should you get for your car?

All-Season Tires

A low angle shows a white car at a local tire shop that has a tire turning out.

All-season tires are designed for year-round use. A jack-of-all-trades in the tire world. One might question what the difference is between an all-season tire and summer and winter tires? It all boils down to the mold of the treads and how the tire types react during seasonal changes.

All-season tires are designed to harden with higher temperatures, while rubber on winter tires soften with higher temperatures, which causes them to wear down much faster. This allows the all-season tires to endure more wear and tear both during cold temperatures and hot temperatures. The design of all-season tires is also specifically made to handle typical road conditions while sporting grooves designed to create grip for traction during slippery or snowy conditions.

The tire molds for all-season tires typically have deeper grooves and are usually closer in design to winter tires than summer tires. Since they have to dig through snow to find traction, they also require many sipes within the tire mold to excise water from the grooves during wet or rainy weather, which in turn helps a vehicle stay on the road and prevent it from hydroplaning. You’ll often find that all-season tires have different sets of grooves and moldings on different sections of the tire, from the innermost design to the outermost design. Each section is usually dedicated to a certain kind of purpose for different weather patterns.

The thing about a jack-of-all-trades, though, is that they’re good at some things but great at nothing. This means that you’ll have reliable performance all year-round, but all-season tires lack the traction to deal with heavy snowstorms and also lack the smooth surface durability of performance or track tires to deal with high speeds at high temperatures. If you are in a climate that frequently changes through seasons, you’ll probably want to opt for all-season tires.

Performance Tires

Performance tires are exactly what the name infers: they’re built for high performance. This means that if the majority of your driving takes place on long stretches of smooth road, lots of highways, or recreational high-speed arenas, then performance tires would work well for you, especially in dry or arid locations. However, they’re not necessarily suitable for daily errands or commutes but work best for Sunday driving or a fun weekend on a long stretch of open road.

Since performance tires are treated with a softer compound, it means that they work best when the temperatures are high, providing the best grip during those conditions. While softer tire compounds are great for warm weather, they don’t work as well for cold weather since soft rubber in snowy or extremely cold conditions causes the tires to slip on road surfaces, resulting in a loss of traction.

Typically, performance tires are built specifically for high-speed traction. This means that they’re also designed to deal with slippery road surfaces that may get wet during lap times or while driving during rainy weather. To combat the loss of traction on slippery surfaces, performance tires have special water channel treads for siping in order to get the water off the tire as quickly as possible.

Performance tires are designed specifically for certain kinds of conditions. They don’t have enough treads or deep enough grooves to be useful during the winter, and they’re not rugged enough to deal with off-road use, but they’re definitely great for people who do a lot of traveling across the asphalt, highways, and urban sprawls. If you are a sports car owner, you might want to consider getting performance tires to get the most out of your driving experience.

Summer Tires

Much like all-season tires, summer tires are designed to adapt as temperatures rise, hardening to reduce tire wear while also maintaining grip in the process thanks to the way the treads are designed. The tire surface lacks the abundance of siping grooves found in all-season tires but is still designed to help vehicles maintain stability and traction on wet surfaces while also providing extra sidewall support for situations in inner-city maneuverability, where frequent turning occurs. Opposite of winter tires, which get soft and lose durability as the temperature rises, summer tires provide more grip as the weather warms up. This makes summer tire sets perfect for cruising at high traveling speeds without wearing down the tread blocks as quickly.

You’ll also notice that summer tires have fewer groove indentations, and the grooves are not as deep as winter or all-season tires. This is because winter tires are designed to create more grip on softer surfaces, whereas summer tires are designed to create more grip on harder surfaces. The more space of a tire’s tread that meets a flat, dry surface means that it creates more friction and helps maintain more traction on the road. Summer tires hold up best during spring, summer, and early fall seasons, where the weather is generally warmer. So, if you live in a warmer climate where snow is not common, or even occurs at all, then you might want to look into getting summer tires.

Four tires are sitting on a summer road.

Touring Tires

Touring tires are very similar to all-season tires because they provide great maneuverability and grip, especially for daily driving and high-speed driving. Touring tires are designed to offer more comfort and quietness on the road thanks to wider tread blocks, which in turn provides more surface grip and better vehicle traction. Usually, if you have a vehicle that you use for regular driving at moderate or high speeds, touring tires aren’t a bad way to go, especially if you plan on using them year-round. Touring tires are also great for custom vehicles, aftermarket tuner cars, high-performance sedans, or luxury vehicles where grip is a necessity.

Touring tires don’t have the same complexity of treading as an all-season tire, but they have deeper indents for the grooving than performance tires. You can tell what sort of touring tire it is based on the treads. If it has more grooves and notches, then it’s more suitable for all-season travel. If it has wider treads with fewer grooves, then it’s better for high performance on dry surfaces. Another thing to keep in mind is that wider treads and fewer grooves mean less traction in heavy snow or heavy rain. So while touring tires can be used as all-season tires, it’s best to consider where you’re driving and what sort of weather conditions you’ll be using them for before purchasing a set.

Track/Racing Tires

There’s really no question about what track tires (which are also referred to as racing tires) are used for. While performance and touring tires are great for specific kinds of road scenarios and weather conditions, track tires are designed for one purpose and one purpose only: the race track.
Track tires are a higher grade of performance tire, and they essentially have very few or no grooved treads at all. The reason for this is so that the majority of the tire meets the surface of the road at all times, and it can provide the most grip for a high-performance vehicle. These tires are not recommended for daily driving.

Track tires usually have a wider profile than other sets of tires, and this ties back into giving the vehicle as much grip on the road as possible. The tire walls are often rounded to provide more tire-on-surface contact and better maneuverability during turns. Most track tires are also designed with a much softer compound that heats up quickly so that vehicles reach maximum grip as fast as possible. The downside to this is that it wears the tires down very quickly, which is why you’ll see race cars pit several times throughout the race to change out the tires.

If you regularly take a high-performance vehicle to the track, then swapping out your regular tires for track/racing tires is a must. You wouldn’t want to damage your vehicle with non-racing tires on the track, which may not provide the right kind of grip for the road surface, in the same way that you wouldn’t want to damage your non-racing tires by engaging them in high-performance activity. These tires are ideal for a specific style of driving but will help you achieve peak performance. If you are using your car for racing, make sure you check the rules and mandates for tires of the competition you are entering.

Winter Tires

One of the most complex kinds of tires on the market are winter tires, mostly due to their design and how they’re specifically made to help keep cars on the road during freezing cold temperatures, icy roads, and heavy snow. Winter tires are specially treated to remain flexible yet sturdy during extremely cold weather. The silica compound and tread blocks are designed so that winter tires can move snow and slush off the tire while also attempting to maintain a grip on the surface of the road.

You’ll notice that winter tires have specially designed tread blocks that are deeply grooved, with small siping ridges along the surface. This is to help move water off the surface of the tread while also allowing the vehicle to scavenge traction on icy or slippery road surfaces. You can get these tires either studded or non-studded. Studded tires have small metal studs that provide peak traction on icy surfaces, while non-studded tires are just deeply grooved to give you a smoother ride.

In some ways, the design of winter tires works like a miniature set of chained wheels, loosening up the surface beneath the car and preventing ice or snow buildup from staying lodged on the tire’s surface. All-season tires are great if you like in a place where winter isn’t too long or too intense. However, there’s no dispute that for areas prone to incur heavy amounts of snow or ice, winter tires are an absolute must-have for drivers.

A closeup shows snow in a snow tire while evergreen trees can be seen in the distance.

Tires Are More Nuanced Than They Seem

When it comes to driving safely and preserving the life of your tires, knowing the difference between tire types is a blessing. In order to achieve optimal performance in whatever driving conditions you encounter, you need the appropriate tires to match. So, remember to consider your typical driving conditions and weather, and if you have any questions, ask your local tire shop for information on what tires are best for your car.

McCluskey Chevy

Even though it was not all successful, as an Ohio tire shop, all of us here at McCluskey Chevy are proud of our state’s history. And further, we are happy to be able to contribute to the great Ohio tradition of putting rubber on cars. So if you are in need of tires, visit McCluskey Chevy, where tradition, history, and high-quality are all a part of the buying process.

Posted in Tire Shop