Born on a farm near Columbiana, Ohio, in 1868, Harvey Samuel Firestone was to become one of America’s great industrial leaders. After graduation from Columbiana High School, Mr. Firestone started his business career and soon became manager of a Detroit agency of a buggy company. It was during this time that he conceived of an idea that would become a vast industry.
Driving the first rubber-tired carriage in Detroit, he demonstrated the improved riding qualities of his buggies. In 1896 he furnished a set of rubber carriage tires to Henry Ford, who was then experimenting with his second model of a horseless carriage. Mr. Firestone left Detroit in 1896 and went to Chicago to sell rubber carriage tires. In 1900 he realized the horse and carriage were on the way out and the automobile age was beginning. Harvey S. Firestone intended to be part of it.
At 31 years old, Mr. Firestone moved to Akron, Ohio and founded The Firestone Tire & Rubber Company with $20,000 worth of assets. The company started operations as a sales company selling tires manufactured by others. Realizing that in order to sell only top quality tires he would have to set up his own factory and produce them himself. In 1903 he purchased an abandoned foundry building and with 12 employees and some second-hand equipment, started manufacturing Firestone tires.
In 1926, in an effort to break the grip on rubber prices held by Far East rubber growers, Mr. Firestone, believing “Americans should grow their own rubber”, started his own plantations in Liberia, West Africa.
By stressing quality products and utilizing a vigorous selling program, the Firestone Company grew rapidly. The company, with Mr. Firestone as president and later as Chairman of the Board, pioneered in making pneumatic tires and in 1906 shipped 2000 sets to the Ford Motor Company. That year Firestone sales exceeded $1 million for the first time.
Firestone continued to grow under the creative energy and dynamic leadership of Harvey Firestone. The company he started with just $20, 000 was a leading U.S Corporation well on the road to diversification and with sales of more that $100 million at the time of Mr. Firestone’s death in 1938. Today, sales of The Firestone Tire & Rubber Company exceed $4 billion annually.
In 1967, Harvey S. Firestone was named one of the top ten “greatest businessmen in American history” by a panel of 423 business executives in a survey conducted by the University of Michigan.
Other pioneering achievements included the mechanically fastened straight-side tire; non-skid treads; low-pressure balloon tires; gum-dipping to insulate tire cords against internal heat; truck and farm tractor tires.
In 1895, Mr. Firestone married the former Idabelle Smith of Jackson, Michigan. They had five sons and one daughter. The founder lived to see his sons carrying on the business and traditions he started. In tribute to Mr. Firestone’s memory his sons, in 1985, completed the relocation of his boyhood home and farm buildings from Ohio to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, where more than one million visitors annually visit the workings of a 19th century farm at “Firestone Farmstead”.