The Tire: When the Road Belonged to Mansfield 1912-1979

It was a proud era for folks from Mansfield: there was a span of more than half a century when you could travel anywhere in the nation and see our name displayed brightly along every highway.

It sounds like exaggeration, but the proof can be found in vacation scrapbooks pasted together by families coast to coast… look in the background of the snapshot and there it is in bold white letters: MANSFIELD.  It was our contribution to American culture of the 20thcentury: More Miles with Mansfield Tires.


To people in Mansfield it was casually known as ‘The Tire,’ as in, “Bob works at The Tire.”

Everyone knew this meant the Mansfield Tire & Rubber Co.  

The factory complex was on Newman Street, but the works of The Tire embraced the entire city.  In fact, the entire nation.

You could be driving though Alabama or Nebraska, anywhere from New Hampshire to New Mexico, and see billboards along the highway showing off Mansfield Tires. You could open the most popular magazines anywhere in the nation and find full-page love letters to the American road from The Tire.

1939 in Edcouch, Texas.

In the 1920s and ‘30s, The Tire stood shoulder to shoulder with the biggest tire names of the country.  In those days there was one yardstick which garage owners, or newspaper reporters, or stock brokers, all used to reference the tire industry: it was called the “Big Four.”    That stood for the biggest names in the business: Goodyear, Goodrich, Firestone & Uniroyal.  It was well known that had the nickname been expanded to the “Big Six,” it would have included Mansfield Tire.

At the height of its 20thcentury career, The Tire turned out so much tread they filled showrooms across the nation with tires that wore other names like Sears and Montgomery Ward and Amoco.  There was one year when they made a million tires for Firestone.

During the golden ages of automobiles: in the 1920s & ‘30s, when it was the new consumer adventure; in the 1950s, when it became the national obsession; and in the ‘60s & ‘70s, when cars were the cultural addiction, the Mansfield Tire name raced out on the leading edge of American drivers.

The city lost a lot more than jobs when The Tire closed: it had been one of our bookmarks in the American Dream; a small role in the parade of history; a name in the background of anyone on the road.


Homage in Timeline:

The Tire officially rolled over the starting line in 1912 when the Henne brothers came to town: they were identical twins named William George and George William. The factory building they adopted on Newman Street had already lost a couple of vehicle companies, but when it was renamed the Mansfield Rubber and Tire Company the factory went from 10 men to 115 in a year; and from 1 tire a day to 250.

The young Tire company was eager to show off the durability of its new tires, so in 1913 H.P. Elias built a new race car to attract attention in traffic, and he took off with his friend on an “Auto Drive To the Coast.” After a fanfare at the Southern Hotel, the one-car parade set out to the Pacific Ocean by way of Alabama, Texas, and Arizona. In the days following the big send off there wasn’t really ever much said about it again, so it’s pretty sure that either the car or the tires didn’t go the distance.

The Tire was already advertising in markets as far away as Atlanta and Los Angeles in 1912, so by Memorial Day 1913 the Henne brothers were at the Indianapolis 500 handing out pennants to drivers, pit crews and racefans that said, “Mansfield Tires Are Better Tires.” It took a few more years of convincing, but by 1916 this Indy starting line had a car wearing Mansfield Tires.

The Tire grew so quickly during its first year that the initial second-shift crews were made up of rubber workers from Akron who took the train to Mansfield to pick up an extra shift.

By 1917 The Tire was putting out 18,000 tires a month by a force of 400 workers.

Wartime restrictions during 1918 cut back production at The Tire, but they were still rolling out 1,500 tires a day; and the place had grown so much that they were running three shifts. The factory opened its own company cafeteria, and built 100 new homes in nearby neighborhoods to house all the new employees.

After a decade of accelerating momentum, in 1923 The Tire was producing 3,200 tires a day, and the plant employed 800 laborers and 50 office workers.

This full-page ad from 1926 ran in what was probably the most popular magazine in the U.S. at the time: the Saturday Evening Post. This is the style of magazine ad that The Tire designed for about a decade, featuring a painted scene of Norman-Rockwell-Americana underneath a giant tire reminiscent of the great St. Louis Arch.

The Tire sold a number of separate lines throughout the decades, and not all of them were advertised as Mansfield Tire products: including Richland Tires, Century Tires, and United Tires. The owner of Mansfield Tire came to own other tire companies as well, like the Columbia Tire Co., which he bought in Columbiana OH and moved to Sixth Street in Mansfield. Eventually he owned Mohawk Tires also.

The shift was changing at Mansfield Tire when everyone stopped for a minute on September 11, 1942 to take part in a quick ceremony: a blue Minuteman flag was formally presented to the plant for being the first industry in Mansfield to have 96% of the employees agree to a 10% reduction in pay in order to buy War Bonds.

Men in uniform hoisted the flag, men in suits gave two quick speeches. Then the bugler stepped up and, like some kind of miracle, there were no trains as he sounded Taps to a silent neighborhood.

Before they all went back to work, someone snapped a photo in the Newman Street parking lot.

The complex of buildings that comprised The Tire went through a number of expansions in its lifetime of 66 years, growing to encompass more than 6 acres of Mansfield turf, but after the company closed its doors in 1978, it took only a quick three years until the entire landmark was completely gone and erased back to the earth, flat as a drawing board.

Promotional matchbook from the 1950s.



Documenting most of The Tire’s history is a large pile of company news: 1920s & 30’s called The Mansfielder; after WWII called Tire Topics.

In different decades the in-house news went by different names, but every issue featured a spread of the smiling faces who worked there. This from 1946, when there were 2,400 employees at The Tire.

In 1963 the new Mansfield Tyre plant and rubber research center opened in Madras, India, the grand ceremonies attended by Prime Minister Nehru.

The Mansfield Tire Service Center in 1970 on Ashland Road, across from E. Dickson Ave; and Texaco showing off Mansfield Tires on its roof, at Park Avenue West and Trimble .

I found a clipping from 1967 where a guy who grew up in Mansfield was stationed at a supply depot in Okinawa and he wrote home to say there was a warehouse there full of Mansfield Tires bound for Vietnam; it made me remember reading the 1968 wartime correspondence of my friend’s homesick brother, who wrote his sister to say how cool it was to find Mansfield Tires on the Army transport trucks outside of Hue; which made me remember Richard telling me once that Vietnamese villagers stole the tires off their vehicles so they could make sandals out of them.  
 
And here they are: the same tires hand-crafted from third shift on Newman Street to rice paddies in Phuoc Tuy.

Unfortunately for historians and museums, tires don’t seem to last more than their allotted time in the sun, so we have only pictures to imagine Mansfield Tires of past generations. And as if to make doubly sure that relic tires hadn’t slipped through the history barrier, Mansfield was particularly enthusiastic about collecting them all during the scrap and rubber drives of WWII. So the North Central Ohio Industrial Museum, in its celebration of the works of Mansfield Tire, is looking forward to the kind of cutting-edge technology that can perhaps recreate classic old local tire history through modern 3-D printing.

A classic Mansfield Tire in a classic Mansfield setting: 1958.


Thank You

Photos and artifacts in this article come from various collections including those of Mark Hertzler, the Sherman Room of the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library, North Central Ohio Industrial Museum, and my friends in the next world Phil Stoodt, and John Stark.



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