Harvey S. Firestone (1868-1938) founded The Firestone Tire & Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, in August 1900, and started marketing solid rubber tires for carriage wheels. A few years later, Henry Ford selected tires manufactured by Firestone for the first mass-produced automobiles in America. In 1911, Firestone began what would become a legendary involvement in car racing by entering and winning the first Indianapolis 500. Firestone also joined America’s “Good Roads” movement, supporting the Lincoln Highway Association in the creation of the first coast-to-coast highway, and advocated the creation of an interstate highway system as early as 1916.
Around the same time, Firestone also created the “Ship by Truck” campaign, encouraging manufacturers to move their products to markets by truck. In fact, the very first coast-to-coast truck shipment of goods traveled on Firestone tires. Firestone advertising of the era hailed its tires as producing “most miles per dollar.” By the 1920s, Firestone had become a world leader in tires and the company included its own retail store chain.
The Bridgestone Tire Co., Ltd. (renamed Bridgestone Corporation) was founded in 1931 in Kurume, Japan, by Shojiro Ishibashi (1885-1976), a manufacturer of rubber-soled footwear. Ishibashi, who admired Firestone, reversed the English translation of his own surname, which means “stone bridge,” to give his new venture a brand name with an international sound. The quality of Bridgestone’s products was soon widely recognized, and its tires were adopted by the three leading automakers in Japan at the time: General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. Bridgestone quickly expanded and diversified into sporting goods and other rubber products for industry. By the 1960s, it was poised for rapid international growth along with the Japanese auto industry. An all-out program to improve quality netted the company the prestigious Deming Prize in 1968.
Meanwhile, Firestone continued to grow and diversify into new markets. In 1961, Firestone acquired Dayton Tire, another tire industry pioneer. During its long history, Firestone developed numerous advances in tire and rubber technology, including the first non-skid tread, synthetic latex, and the first United States-produced radial tire.
Bridgestone entered the U.S. market in 1967 through a sales subsidiary in California. In 1983, Bridgestone established its first U.S. production base by purchasing a Firestone truck tire plant in LaVergne, Tennessee. This plant continues to be an important manufacturing facility for truck and bus tires as well as light truck tires and passenger car tires as part of Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire, LLC.
Bridgestone purchased Firestone in 1988 for $2.6 billion, with the combined company being the world’s largest tire and rubber company.