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Mascots evoke memories: Tiremakers banked on colorful characters to hawk products

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Mascots evoke memories: Tiremakers banked on colorful characters to hawk products

You've seen the Michelin Man, Uniroyal Tiger and Titan Grizz. You probably remember the Fisk Boy and the Taurus Bull. But what about The Ideal Greyhound and Ready Eddie? They're all part of the rich history of tire company mascots.

Company mascots have been around as long as the tire industry itself. Some, like Michelin's "Bibendum," have lasted for generations. Dozens more have been lost to the ravages of time.

A recent, decade-by-decade scan through 84 years of Modern Tire Dealer issues brought some of these characters back to life, if only for a few moments. Animals seemed to rule the tire ad roost during the 1920s and '30s. There was the Braender Rubber & Tire Co. Bulldog, often seen leaping through a tire. Cupples Tires & Tubes employed a fierce-looking rhinoceros, while Gillette Rubber Co. favored a polar bear. Delion Tire & Rubber Co. claimed its tire line was "King of Them All" and used a sketch of a lion to drive the point home.

Some mascots from the era took a more human form. Powertown Tire Corp., whose products were "Tougher'en the Devil," used a leering cartoon of "Old Scratch," complete with horns and a bright red cape. Combination Rubber Manufacturing Co. made Viking-brand tires that were "Strong as the Norseman." The tiremaker used -- what else? -- a Viking in its ads. Quaker City Rubber Co. ads featured a Quaker gentleman -- similar to the famous Quaker Oats icon but younger, slimmer and usually sketched from a side angle.

Other characters bordered on the surreal. Traveler Rubber Co.'s cartoon mascot appeared to be a cross-section of a tire with a smiling face connected to pinstripe-suit covered legs and arms; in his hand he held a scale that weighed the merits of the Traveler brand vs. "ordinary tires." Guess which won out?

Notable mascots during the 1940s and '50s included O.K. Rubber Welding Systems' cartoon of a smiling man with the O.K. logo proudly emblazoned on his chest and Penetred Corp.'s snarling tiger, "Penny." A stately butler was used by United States Rubber Co., which built Royal-brand tires. In 1944, Vanderbilt Tire used a baby in its ads, pre-dating Michelin by several decades.

Tire company mascots fell out of style during the 1960s as the use of real-life models became popular. Some manufacturers still employed cartoon figures, but often as one-shot deals. For example, Hood Rubber Co. touted its protected sales territories with a drawing of a shotgun-toting cattleman in the January 1966 issue of MTD.

More and more tiremakers also began to give dealers top billing in their ads, a trend that continues to this day. Vehicles and, of course, tires remain favorite images, too.

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