1955: A Leading Transportation Entrepreneur Reaches the End of the Road

August 11, 1955

Franklin Augustus “Frank” Seiberling, an entrepreneur and inventor who left a lasting imprint on the production of tires for motor vehicles, died in his longtime hometown of Akron, Ohio. “Frank Augustus Seiberling was a man of large gestures, lordly gambles, strong friendships, occasional humor, and invariable fighting courage,” noted the next day’s edition of the Akron Beacon Journal. “Those are the essentials in any story of the manufacturer-promoter-inventor whose death at 95 writes finish to one of the most colorful and tumultuous chapters in the amazing history of Akron.”

Seiberling was born in the community of Western Star in Ohio on October 6, 1859. His father John F. Seiberling operated a farm machinery manufacturing business. For two years, Frank Seiberling attended Heidelberg College (now Heidelberg University) in the city of Tiffin, Ohio. He then began working for his father’s company as its secretary and treasurer.

By 1898, Frank Seiberling – now a married man with three children – was looking for new business opportunities. Seiberling ended up purchasing a one-time strawboard factory in Akron and, with his brother Charles, launched a tire manufacturing company at that facility. The Seiberling brothers named the new enterprise after Charles Goodyear (1800-1860), the chemist and engineer who had developed vulcanized rubber (a far-reaching innovation that made tires harder and therefore more durable) and received a U.S. patent for it in 1844. While starting out as a builder of tires for bicycles and horse-drawn vehicles, the company soon began focusing instead on the production of tires for motor vehicles.

David E. Hill, a business associate of the Seiberlings, was the first president of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. Frank Seiberling served as the company’s secretary and then general manager. In 1906, he became the fourth president of the company.

In the course of his longstanding affiliation with the Goodyear Tire & Road Company, the ever-resourceful Frank Seiberling helped bring about several upgrades and improvements that revolutionized the tire industry worldwide. An especially notable innovation was a machine for the mechanized production of tires that he devised in collaboration with William State, the company’s chief engineer.

The Seiberling State Tire Building Machine, which was patented in 1908, made it possible for the industry to shift away from the time-consuming rigors of manually creating tires on a piecemeal basis. Instead of having employees take 10 hours to build no more than five tires altogether by hand, manufacturers could now use the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company’s new machine to churn out as many as 60 tires within the same timeframe. The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company ultimately granted 50 licenses for other businesses in the industry to use the machine. By 1913, more than half of all of the tires made in the United States were produced by the machine that Seiberling and State had invented.

Other innovations that Seiberling helped develop on behalf of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company included the first universal tire rim; and pneumatic tires for trucks to enable those vehicles to travel more smoothly and safely on roads. The Seiberling brothers resigned from the company in 1921 after it was refinanced and reorganized.

That same year, Frank Seiberling founded a tire manufacturing company in the Ohio city of Barberton (adjacent to Akron). To say that this enterprise thrived early on in its existence would be an understatement; the Seiberling Rubber Company jumped from 330th to seventh place in the tire industry within only six years. The company remained in operation until 1965, when it was acquired by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.

Seiberling, who was widely known as “Little Napoleon” because of both his short stature and relentless resolve to succeed, played an instrumental role in putting Akron on the map as the Rubber Capital of the World. His overall contributions to the enhancements and greater-than-before production of tires across the globe have likewise endured. In 1985, Seiberling was named an inaugural inductees of the Tire Industry Hall of Fame.  

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Frank Seiberling, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Seiberling

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