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Unsung heroes in WW II: Tire dealers, manufacturers kept war effort rolling

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Unsung heroes in WW II: Tire dealers, manufacturers kept war effort rolling

They may not get any credit in history books, but tires played a big role in the Allies' victory during World War II 60 years ago.

"The greatest blunder the Axis Powers made was their under-estimation of the ability of American industry to meet the challenge of war production," Harvey Firestone Jr., president of Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., once said.

While domestic tire manufacturers supplied tires for military use, they also were entrusted with another important duty -- keeping cars and trucks moving at home.

"Essential services must be maintained," read a General Tire & Rubber Co. ad that appeared in the June 1942 issue of Modern Tire Dealer's predecessor, Tires. "Raw materials and finished articles must be moved, workers must get to and from their jobs - all at maximum efficiency with the use of a minimum amount of rubber."

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Tiremakers responded by building "war tires" made out of a reclaimed rubber. The next challenge was selling the concept to dealers.

"In all fairness, we must tell you that such tires cannot come up to our standard pre-war tires," Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. officials told dealers. "But as Goodyear builds them, they have advantages that you'll want to tell your customers about.

"First, in the Goodyear war tire there's a priceless ingredient: Goodyear's know-how. It takes more skill to build a serviceable tire from regenerated stock than new rubber.

"Second, there is Goodyear's experience in reclaiming rubber. We operate our own regenerating plant to supply our own needs.

"Third, the cord forming the body of the tire is made in Goodyear's own cotton mills under rigid quality control.

"And most important of all, it's not a quick-built, emergency tire. It was developed in the Goodyear research laboratories many months ago, when we first saw the rubber shortage coming."

Firestone promoted itself as a pioneer in reclaimed rubber tires, having made its first one in March 1940. "As a result, Firestone dealers will be placed in the position of selling a tried and proven reclaimed rubber tire."

As the war effort intensified, tire company executives were quick to praise dealers for helping motorists get the most out of their existing tires.

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"Since Pearl Harbor, the independent tire dealer has done a magnificent job that qualifies him as a real home front hero," said J.P. Seiberling, president of Seiberling Rubber Co. "He has repaired when he could have sold a more profitable recapping job. He has recapped when a new tire sale would have been easy. He has worked long, hard days and has accomplished amazing amounts of work in order that his customers might continue to operate their cars and trucks without interruption."

Meanwhile, tire manufacturers continued to develop new and better ways of using synthetic rubber.

After Germany surrendered in May 1945, "postwar planning" became the industry buzz-word. (Japan surrendered in September 1945.) "When normalcy returns, when the seller's market becomes a buyer's market again, when factories and the armed forces spew their laborers and soldiers into business enterprise, and when restrictions are removed or erased, competition will put every tire dealer on his mettle, and he will have to measure up or go down," read an article in the June 1945 issue of Tyres.

It was yet another challenge that tire dealers met and conquered.

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