The tire industry has a long and fascinating history, beginning with Robert W. Thomson's invention and later John Boyd Dunlop's reinvention of the pneumatic tire more than 100 years ago. Unfortunately, many of the historical artifacts and much memorabilia from the early days of our industry have been lost over the intervening years.
We learned that back in 1988 while conducting research for TIRE BUSINESS' commemorative issue recognizing the 100th anniversary of the pneumatic tire.
As part of our preparation, then Special Projects Editor Chuck Slaybaugh traveled to Europe to research the earliest days of tire manufacturing.
What he found, or in this case didn't find, was discouraging. At one of the world's oldest tire makers, he learned that much of the firm's historical memorabilia was gone-the victim of changes in management and ownership over the years.
Even some of the earliest and original tires, those that had been saved for decades, had been sold by the firm's previous owners.
As a result, many priceless relics of the pneumatic tire's early development are lost and probably gone for good.
This story is not unique. It's been repeated at countless tire companies still in existence today.
That's why it's so important that Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. has chosen, as part of its 100th anniversary celebration, to open a museum showcasing its history.
I toured the museum in January, when the company officially dedicated it in Cumberland, Md., as a kick-off to its centennial celebration.
Kelly-Springfield, I learned, was founded in 1894 in Springfield, Ohio, by Edwin S. Kelly and his partner, inventor Arthur Grant. It was Mr. Grant's design for a rubber carriage tire that got what was then called the Rubber Tire Wheel Co. off the ground. Within a few years, his ``Springfield'' tire had become the standard carriage tire for the world.
Today, that tire is still in production, being made at Calimer's Wheel Shop in Waynesboro, Pa., using Mr. Grant's original specifications.
In its early years, the Rubber Tire Wheel Co. changed ownership and names and moved from Springfield to New York City. In 1914 it was renamed the Kelly-Springfield Tire Co.
A need for more production capacity in the mid-teens resulted in the company closing its three smaller tire plants in 1921 and centralizing production at a new plant in Cumberland that went on stream in 1923.
Cumberland beat out 53 other cities considered for the new facility.
During the Great Depression, Kelly's fortunes foundered and bankruptcy proceedings began. Goodyear bought the firm in 1935, moving the company's headquarters to Cumberland, where it remains today.
The Kelly museum is loaded with such history. Situated on the ground floor of the headquarters building, the two-room exhibit looks like an old-fashioned tire shop as you enter, complete with a window display of paper-wrapped ``Buckeye Cord'' tires.
Inside, the first thing you notice is a mannequin, dressed to resemble a tire worker, making a carriage tire. Tires from circa 1900 to the '60s dot the room. A company history covers the walls. Important historical letters and documents, photos, newspaper clippings and promotional items such as Kelly ashtrays, razors, mugs and watches fill glass cases in the main room.
Items that drew my attention included: a history of Kelly tire advertising over the first 100 years, including ads featuring the firm's ``pin-up girl,'' Miss Lotta Miles; a document detailing the sale of the company in 1899 for $1.2 million; original bricks from Kelly's Akron plant, built in about 1900 and closed in 1925; a collection of Kelly service pins and tie clips; and copies of Kant Slip, a company magazine published for dealers and consumers starting in 1915.
Kelly-Springfield officials have done a great service preserving and displaying such memorabilia. Few tire makers today can lay claim to such a long history, and fewer still can actually lay their hands on that history.
In the early part of this century, as many as 300 tire companies operated in the United States. Today, less than a handful of U.S.-owned tire makers exist. Even the names of many of these former firms are probably gone forever.
This summer, if you're driving through western Maryland, consider a stop at Kelly's Cumberland headquarters. The museum will be open daily from April to September.
You won't be disappointed.
Mr. Zielasko is editor of TIRE BUSINESS.