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Small company, big impact: Vogue Tyre specializes in stylish sidewalls

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Small company, big impact: Vogue Tyre specializes in stylish sidewalls

For a relatively small company, Vogue Tyre & Rubber Co. has had a major impact on tire sidewall design.

Its founder, Harry Hower, is the man who "invented" the white sidewall concept, says Greg Hathcock, current Vogue president.

Hower was a chauffeur in Chicago who quit his job in 1914 to enter the tire business with the Woodbury family and married Margaret Woodbury. Four years later, seeing a market for fancy tires for the luxury trade, he created a new design, the white sidewall tire, and arranged to have it built by the Falls Rubber Co. in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

In years since, whitewalls have boomed in popularity, peaking in the 1970s and '80s. But overall, sales have been on the decline since then. Other sidewall colors have appeared briefly, then disappeared almost completely.

In the face of these national trends, however, Vogue Tyres, as they were later named, have rolled along successfully through the years. They've even added distinctive gold stripes to the white ones on their sidewalls.

As Hower anticipated, a ready market has remained for colorful sidewalls among vehicle owners willing to pay extra for a touch of class.

Until 1926, Hower sold tires only in the Chicago area. His wife, Margaret, was a promoter. She named the whitewall tire "Vogue" and added "Custom Built" to the title.

They caught the eye of a West Coast entrepreneur named George Wagner who signed a deal to distribute Vogue tires in the Los Angeles area. But that operation failed after about a year.

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That didn't discourage another Los Angeles tire man, however. While vacationing in Chicago, 24-year-old Loyd Dodson saw the whitewalls on the fancy chauffeur-driven cars cruising around town.

He and his brother-in-law, Jack McDonald, had each borrowed $3,000 to start a Los Angeles tire business in 1925, and Dodson saw great potential in marketing Vogue tires to the movie moguls and stars in "La-La-Land."

By 1928, Dodson had signed a deal to acquire West Coast distribution rights to the tires. He concentrated on sales to owners of Duesenbergs, a top luxury car of the time.

Before long, the distinctive white sidewall tires showed up on cars owned by film stars such as Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Marion Davies -- and other people of means wanted them. People like Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Frank Robinson and Lyndon Johnson have been pictured with Vogue-shod vehicles.

Today, Hathcock says the company sells about 200,000 luxury passenger tires a year -- many still with white and gold stripes -- as well as top-of-the-line SUV and light truck tires. It markets them through three distribution channels.

New luxury car dealers are its largest outlet. Vogue also operates 29 Custom Centers in auto dealerships. These centers sell tires and wheels and custom equipment such as grills, wings, gold ornamentation, wood dashboards, leather interiors, etc. About 100 tire dealerships also handle Vogue Tyre products. The company also sells some tire and equipment packages through the mail.

Nor has Vogue Tyre lost its ability to take advantage of popular current trends. Company president Hathcock says Vogue Tyres are mentioned in more than 100 rap songs!

And the beat goes on!

About the author

Lloyd Stoyer retired as editor of Modern Tire Dealer in 2000. That same year, he was inducted into the Tire Industry Association Hall of Fame. He resides in Canton, Ohio.

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