Tradition-rich U.S. tyre brand General Tire is celebrating its centenary.
The company traces its origins to Akron, Ohio, where William F. O’Neill and his partner Winfred E. Fouse had the idea of producing superior quality tyres. At the time, there were more than 300 companies making tyres in the USA. But unlike their competitors, from the outset the two partners put their faith in high quality, initially focusing on the truck market. Here they pioneered an oversized pneumatic tyre called the General Jumbo. Back in those days, trucks ran on solid rubber tyres and the pneumatic tyre was an innovation that soon caught on. A nationwide team of loyal, competent and independent dealers helped ensure that the brand rapidly proved a success.
General Tire innovations also made inroads into the automobile market. In the mid-1920s the company released General Balloon Jumbo tyres for cars. These required much lower air pressure and provided a far more comfortable ride than conventional tyres. As a brand, General Tire rapidly expanded its range which soon included the high-mileage, puncture-proof Dual Balloon.
As the 1930s dawned, General Tire was the largest manufacturer of truck tyres in the USA, with a range that included a full line of pneumatic tyres. At the same time, the company added an international page to its ledger, incorporating a wholly-owned subsidiary in Mexico. In the mid-1930s General Tire concluded an original equipment agreement with International Harvester, one of the largest U.S. manufacturers of commercial vehicles and agricultural machinery. By the end of the decade, every major U.S. truck builder had General Tire on its approved original equipment list. In the 1940s, General Tire generated further innovations in manufacturing rubber and stepped up its expansion with the opening of a state-of-the-art tyre plant in Waco, Texas.
In the mid-1950s the tyre manufacturer continued to grow its portfolio and entered the original equipment market for car tyres, initially as a supplier to General Motors. Demand for original equipment tyres continued to grow and General Tire invested in new, advanced tyre plants, as well as in the world’s largest tyre test track in Uvalde, Texas. The third domestic tyre plant was opened in 1960 at Mayfield, Kentucky, followed in 1967 by additional facilities in Bryan, Ohio and Charlotte, North Carolina. The sixth plant went into operation in 1973 at Mt. Vernon, Illinois.
In many aspects, General Tire scientists have advanced the state of technology within the tyre industry, leading to improvements in the production and performance of both car and truck tyres. Along with its growth in the tyre business, General Tire also branched into business areas beyond rubber – including aerospace and defence, entertainment and broadcasting, chemicals/plastics and industrial products, tennis ball production and hotel development. In 1984, GenCorp, Inc. was set up as the parent holding company, overseeing the various businesses. Within GenCorp, Inc., General Tire, Inc. was established to encompass worldwide tire operations.
In 1987, GenCorp’s board of directors fended off a hostile takeover attempt, launching a massive restructuring program and refocusing the Group on its core business, which by now meant aerospace and industrial goods. The German tyre manufacturer Continental acquired GenCorp’s tyre operations at the end of 1987 as part of an ambitious program of expansion. In 1995 the company changed its name to Continental General Tire, Inc. before being renamed Continental Tire North America, Inc. in 2000.
Under the brand name General Tire the company continues to manufacture a broad portfolio of tyres for passenger cars and trucks. Over time, the brand has won itself a global reputation as one of the most innovative manufacturers of 4×4 tyres, with a wide range of summer and winter products for on- and off-road use.