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The General Tire & Rubber Company - Lehman Brothers Collection

The General Tire & Rubber Company

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The General Tire and Rubber Company was founded by William F. O'Neil in 1915 in Akron, Ohio, under the name the General Rubber Manufacturing Company. The company changed its name to its present form later that year. The time was perfect for tire companies; in 1915 the number of passenger cars in the United States had surpassed two million, with one million produced that year alone. In addition, World War I boosted the U.S. economy in almost all respects. By that time, even the lower-middle class could afford Model Ts. Due to frequent blowouts, the vast majority of cars came equipped with two spare tires, and the more expensive models even came with four spares. Business was more than ample for tire companies, and the General Tire & Rubber Company even turned a profit in its first year of operation.

In 1916 the company manufactured its first tire bearing its name. It was the first oversize tire on the market, especially fitted for passenger cars. General began advertising in the Saturday Evening Post the following year, paying $5,000 for a full-page ad. At that time, it was unusual for a tire company to appeal to individual car owners rather than to the car manufacturers. This was an innovative marketing approach, and it worked. Franchised tire dealerships also became crucial to the success of the company. General also initiated the concept of trading-in used tires for a complete set of "Generals," as the tires were dubbed. The company also entered into various "mileage contracts," whereby it leased tires and tubes to certain companies operating taxicabs and buses in return for a fixed rate per mile for the use of the tires.

General soon recognized the growing importance of trucks and their tire needs and made truck tires its specialty. The company pioneered the recapping of truck tires, and in the 1930s it introduced a series of low-pressure truck tires. By 1934 the company's research and development team had experimented with a revolutionary new "drum method" for producing truck tires that dramatically reduced the cost of manufacturing them and at the same time accelerated the speed at which they were manufactured by 50 percent. Without the "drum method" of truck tire production, the tremendous wartime demand for tires would not have been met.

By 1923 the company had earned its first million dollars in sales. General's product innovations also continued. The company had come out in 1920 with its "General Jumbo" low-pressure tire, which became a great success with car owners because of its superior mileage and maneuverability. In the latter part of the decade, and through the years of the Depression, General not only pioneered in the development of truck tires, but also entered the airplane tire business and continued to produce automobile tires. At that time, the company sold a substantial portion of its airplane tires to the U. S. government to equip planes in the Army and Navy air services. By that time, the company had acquired its first subsidiary in Mexico and was exporting its tires throughout the world. Despite these signs of vigor and the fact that the 1930s witnessed the biggest vehicle registration in history, the company made no profit throughout most of the decade. Its survival alone had to stand as testament to its vitality.

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