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Museum gave Goodyear historical perspective

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Museum gave Goodyear historical perspective

The World of Rubber is now closed, and Charles Goodyear (at least his statue) has left the building.

Since 1945, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. had housed the museum at its headquarters in Akron, Ohio. As you might expect, it featured the colorful history of the rubber industry through the eyes of Goodyear. Artifacts from the company’s 111-year history were on display, free of charge to the public.

Companies, like events, are often easier to appreciate when viewed in a historical context. Take, for example, Ziegler Tire & Supply Co. in Massillon, Ohio, and Free Service Tire Co. Inc. in Johnson City, Tenn., which, like Modern Tire Dealer, are celebrating their 90th anniversaries this year.

In our September issue, we honored Ziegler Tire President Bill Ziegler, who was named Tire Dealer of the Year. His accomplishments are even more impressive when you know how much the fourth-generation dealership has changed since it opened in 1919.

Free Service Tire supplied and expedited Goodyear products to the contractors on the atomic bomb plant project in Oak Ridge, Tenn., during World War II.

In his 1983 book, “The Goodyear Story,” Maurice O’Reilly wrote that on “most days” there were “many” visitors to the World of Rubber. That hasn’t been the case for a long time, according to Scott Baughman, manager of public affairs for Goodyear’s global communications department.

“There were times in the winter when we could go days without people stopping by,” he says.
Now you understand why the museum has been closed. And rightfully so. If no one in Akron, the former “Rubber Capital of the World,” is interested in what it has to offer, what’s the point in keeping it open?

I hadn’t visited the museum in 21 years, but wanted one last look. Very little had changed, although the “Welcome to the World of Rubber” pamphlet was “new.” When I was last there, Bob Mercer was Goodyear’s chairman. According to the pamphlet, Stan Gault was chairman. (Gault retired from Goodyear in 1996.)

“We didn’t have a budget to maintain and staff the museum,” says Baughman, “and given the little attendance (over the years), we just did basic maintenance to keep things picked up and clean.”
Goodyear’s history dates back to 1898, when Frank Seiberling founded the company. He named it after Charles Goodyear, the man who discovered the rubber vulcanization process when he accidentally tossed a piece of his rubber gum and sulfur mixture into a fire.

“Accident or not, I discovered it,” said a life-size museum mannequin of Charles Goodyear to any visitor who would listen. Standing in a replica of his workshop, he became animated at the push of a button.

A large tire commemorating the making of Goodyear’s 300 millionth tire on Aug. 9, 1939, got me to thinking. What’s the updated total?

“Billions and billions,” says Baughman. “You could put the golden arches out front.”

The historical items will not be discarded or destroyed if possible, he promises. Plans call for getting “the more valuable items in the hands of professionals so they can be preserved.”

Some of the items will stay in-house, sort of. For example, Goodyear’s aviation division will care for all the airship and lighter-than-air-related memorabilia. That includes the Paul Litchfield Trophy for a hot-air ballooning race in Pittsburgh on May 4, 1929. “Back then, balloon races were very popular, and Goodyear participated,” says Baughman.

The company’s racing division will be responsible for the classic race tires and cars, including the Pennzoil Z-7 Penske Chevy 90 driven by Rick Mears in the PPG Indy Car World Series. The car featured Goodyear Eagle Speedway Special Radials, size 25.5x10x15 in front, 27x14.5x15 in rear.

A Corsair fighter plane fuselage and cockpit and other aviation tire-related materials are earmarked for the Military Aviation Preservation Society. Did you know Goodyear made Corsairs during World War II?

“We’re working with Akron public schools for displaying our synthetic and rubber tire production (exhibits),” says Baughman. “They’ve expressed an interest in them.”

Within the next few years, Goodyear will move into a new world headquarters near the company’s technical center in Akron. Its former home will be turned into a mixed-use retail and commercial development called the Akron Riverwalk.

When that happens, the little 5,000-plus square-foot museum that housed the history of Goodyear will be gone for good. And hopefully not forgotten.    ■

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