The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company is an American tire company founded by Harvey Samuel 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.
Firestone was originally based in Akron, Ohio, also the hometown of its archrival, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and another two mid-sized competitors, General Tire and Rubber and BF Goodrich. Founded on August 3, 1900, the company initiated operations with 12 employees. Together, Firestone and Goodyear were the largest suppliers of automotive tires in North America for over 75 years. In 1906 Henry Ford chose Firestone for Model T original equipment tires.
In 1918, 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 1920s, Firestone produced the Oldfield tire, named for racing driver Barney Oldfield.
In 1926, the company opened one of the world's biggest rubber plantations in Liberia, West Africa, spanning more than 1 million acres. 1926 was also the year that the company opened its first Firestone Complete Auto Care store (Firestone Complete Auto Care is a division of Firestone that offers automotive maintenance and repair).
In 1927, Henry Ford and tire maven Harvey Firestone took a trip to Los Angeles to select locations for their new factories. Friends say Ford wanted to be near the ocean and picked Long Beach and suggested Firestone go to South Gate, California. The tiny community southeast of Downtown was mostly agriculture at the time and Firestone found 40 acres of bean field to house his new manufacturing plant. Architects Curlett and Beelman created a spectacular four-storey Italianate complex, with its own power plant and gorgeous polychrome murals by Gladding McBean depicting the tire and rubber-making process. A year after the plant opened in 1928 it doubled in size. By 1954, when they added the Corporal guided missile to their offerings, the plant was nearly a million square feet. The town grew around Firestone, they named the main boulevard through town after Harvey, and Los Angeles became the number one tire market in the country. By the mid-1970s Ford and GM had massive layoffs as Firestone and other manufacturers opened new plants in non-union locales like Wilson, North Carolina. After much downsizing the end came in 1980 when 1,300 workers were laid off and the plant closed. East Los Angeles College has proposed a new satellite campus at the site.
In 1928 the company built a factory in Brentford, England, a longtime Art Deco landmark on a major route into the city. This closed in 1979.
In 1936 the company opened a plant in Memphis, Tennessee. With a work force exceeding 3,000 employees, the Memphis plant was the largest tire manufacturer in the company's worldwide operation. On July 1, 1963, the company celebrated the production of 100 million tires in Memphis. The plant was closed in 1982.
During World War II the company was called on by the U.S. Government to make artillery shells, aluminum kegs for food transport and rubberized military products. Firestone ranked 55th among United States corporations in the value of World War II military production contracts. 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.