AKRON (June 6, 2001)—Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s decision May 21 to stop doing business with Ford Motor Co. in the Americas ends one of corporate America's longest business partnerships.
The two companies began working together 95 years ago when Henry Ford's auto company purchased 2,000 sets of detachable pneumatic tires from Harvey S. Firestone Sr. and the fledgling Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.
But the breakup is more than just business for Ford Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. As the son of Martha Firestone and William Clay Ford, grandson of Harvey S. Firestone Jr. and Edsel Ford and great-grandson of Harvey S. Firestone Sr. and Henry Ford, the corporate divorce between the companies also is personal.
“I grew up with Firestone as part of my family,” Mr. Ford said in response to a question May 22 during a press conference following Ford's announcement to recall millions of Firestone Wilderness AT tires.
The breakup is tough, he explained, because Firestone is a great American name “and it's my family name—my mother's name certainly.”
Relations between Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford began disintegrating last August following the recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, many of which were used as original equipment on Ford Explorers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has linked the tires to accidents causing 174 deaths and more than 700 injuries.
Things grew more acrimonious in mid May as Ford prepared to announce it was recalling and replacing 13 million Wilderness AT tires not included in the previous recall saying it had lost confidence in the future safety of the tires. Bridgestone/Firestone disagreed, calling its tires safe.
“To see all this taking place, obviously it's something that's deeply disturbing,” Mr. Ford said.
All of these developments have rekindled a lot of family memories and a lot of family legacy, he said. “But the reality is that Firestone was sold many years ago to Bridgestone, so the family involvement ended at that point. So the only involvement was really, at that point, emotional and historic.”
In the forward to the book "Firestone: A Legend. A Century. A Celebration," published last year by Bridgestone/Firestone in honor of Firestone's 100th anniversary as a company, Mr. Ford wrote about his famous ancestors.
“I am privileged to have had two American icons as my great-grandfathers,” he said. “Their legacies have inspired me to contribute what I can to industry and to society as we enter a new century. I look forward to building on the legacies they began nearly 100 years ago.”
The relationship between Harvey Firestone Sr. and Henry Ford is one of business lore. The two met in 1885 when Mr. Firestone was working for the Columbus Buggy Works in Detroit. At the time, Mr. Ford was building his first automobile and Mr. Firestone had just received some new pneumatic tires that were softer than the solid rubber tires Mr. Ford was looking to buy. He ordered a set of the pneumatics.
From that casual meeting sprang a relationship that spanned both business and friendship.
Mr. Firestone founded the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. on Aug. 3, 1900, in Akron, and in 1906 the company made its first sale of pneumatic tires to the fledgling Ford Motor Co., beginning the partnership that has lasted nearly 100 years.
Along with their business affiliation, Mr. Ford and Mr. Firestone became good friends. Their relationship included a series of legendary camping trips that included famed inventor, Thomas Edison, and John Burroughs, one of the country's earliest environmentalists.
As for any future connection between Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone, the current Ford chairman said the relationship, for the moment, is “ruptured.” But he left the door open for a possible reconciliation.
“Whether or not (the relationship) can be repaired down the line, we'd certainly be open to it,” he said. “Historically they've been a very good partner of ours. But there's no question right now there is no relationship. And I feel very sorry about that. But we never close the door to something in the future.”