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The BFGoodrich Company

The BFGoodrich Company

4020 Kinross Lakes Parkway
Richfield, Ohio 44286
U.S.A.
(330) 659-7600
Fax: (330) 659-7906
Web site: http://www.bfgoodrich.com

Public Company
Incorporated:
1870 as Goodrich, Tew & Company
Employees: 14,160
Sales: $2.2 billion (1996)
Stock Exchanges: New York
SICs: 2800 Chemicals and Allied Products

With operations in eight countries, the BFGoodrich Company manufactures and supplies a wide range of systems and component parts for the aerospace industry, and provides maintenance, repair, and overhaul services on commercial, regional, business, and general aviation aircraft. The company also manufactures specialty plastics and specialty additives products for a variety of end-user applications. In addition, it produces chlor-alkali and olefins products. BFGoodrich has manufacturing operations and aircraft service centers in eight countries. Throughout most of its history Goodrich built its business on rubber production, gaining a reputation among U.S. tire makers as a leader in product development and innovation. In the early 20th century Goodrich used its experience in the rubber industry to diversify into chemicals and plastics, and it spearheaded the development of synthetic rubber technology during World War II. The company prospered during the postwar era but faced difficulties when the U.S. auto industrys decline in the 1970s curtailed the demand for tires. Convinced that its future lay in chemicals and plastics, the companys directors embarked on a long and often difficult restructuring plan. Goodrich finally divested itself of its tire business in 1987, emerging as a leaner, more profitable company. The company continues to strengthen its aerospace and specialty chemicals business groups.

Company Origins

Benjamin Franklin Goodrich followed a circuitous route into the rubber industry. Born in Ripley, New York in 1841, Goodrich pursued an education in medicine and served as an assistant surgeon in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. After the war Goodrich pursued a career in business and entered into a real estate partnership with John P. Morris of New York City. In 1869 the partners found themselves investors in a small operation called the Hudson River Rubber Company. They soon acquired full ownership of the company and Goodrich took over as its president.

Goodrich was not impressed with the companys prospects in New York and he considered moving it west, where a growing population and economy offered plenty of opportunities for expansion. After listening to a stranger praise a canal town in Ohio called Akron, he investigated it for himself. Akrons citizens were as anxious to attract business as Goodrich was to develop it. After his visit a group of 19 potential investors sent George T. Perkins back to New York with Goodrich to examine his operations there. The group received a favorable report, and it loaned Goodrich the money he needed to move west. On December 31, 1870, Goodrich formed the partnership of Goodrich, Tew & Company with his brother-in-law Harvey W. Tew and the Akron investors. After completing a two-story factory on the banks of the Ohio Canal, Goodrich was in business as the first rubber company west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Goodrich experienced a shaky start during its first decade. The companys first product was a cotton-covered firehose designed to withstand the high pressures and low temperatures that often caused leather hoses to burst. While the firehose was a welcome innovation among the nations firefighters, poor financing led to several reorganizations within the company. George W. Crouse, one of the original Akron investors, finally stabilized the companys finances with an additional loan in 1880, and it was incorporated in the state of Ohio as The B.F. Goodrich Company.

Goodrich died in 1888, just a few years before the bicycle craze of the 1890s revolutionized his company and the rubber industry. Among the companys early products had been the solid-band tire used on bicycles of the 1880s. The invention of the pneumatic tire in 1890 greatly increased the comfort of bicycle riding, and Goodrich began turning out bicycle tires to keep pace with the popularity of this recreation. The introduction of cord tires, which increased the speed of bicycles, and the adaptation of pneumatic tires to horse-drawn buggies expanded the nations rubber markets further. Goodrich increased its capacity with each addition to its tire demand, and company engineers cooperated with independent inventors to find new applications for company products.

The most important of these joint efforts was a contribution Goodrich made to the nations infant automobile industry. In 1897 Alexander Winton of Cleveland, Ohio, organized the Winton Motor Car Company to market his horseless carriages. He asked Goodrich to develop a pneumatic tire strong enough to handle its high speeds and heavier loads. Goodrich responded with the first pneumatic tires for automobiles, beginning a long partnership with the auto industry that became the foundation for the companys profits for the next 70 years.

Early Commitment to Research and Development

From very early in its history Goodrich committed itself to research and development in rubber technology. Under the aegis of Goodrichs son, Charles Cross Goodrich, the company opened the rubber industrys first experimental research laboratory in 1895. Arthur H. Marks, one of Goodrichs engineers, was responsible for several breakthroughs in the processing of crude rubber. In its natural form, crude rubber is very sensitive to changes in temperature, becoming hard and brittle when cooled, and soft and tacky when heated. Vulcanization, a process first discovered by Charles Goodyear in 1839, mixes crude rubber with sulfur and heat to convert it to a durable material unaffected by changes in climate. At the turn of the century, Arthur Marks pioneered a procedure for devulcanizing vulcanized rubber, thus enabling producers to reclaim crude rubber from manufactured goods for re-use. Marks also developed methods for speeding vulcanization by adding certain organic chemical accelerators to the process. The use of such compounds reduced the time necessary for vulcanization by as much as 75 percent.

Goodrich continued to apply the latest technology to its tire production. In 1910 it introduced the first cord tire for use on U.S. automobiles. This tire, which reduced fuel consumption and increased the comfort of the ride, was developed in Silver-town, England, and marketed there as the Palmer Cord. Goodrich purchased the patent rights for it in the United States and sold it to U.S. consumers as the Silvertown Cord. Other innovations in Goodrichs tire manufacturing included the use of other organic compounds to resist deterioration by heat, oxidation, and flexing; and carbon black, a coloring pigment that improved the tires resistance to abrasion.

World War I and Product Diversification

Goodrichs success in its tire business led it into product diversification. By the time of World War I, it was producing rubber for consumer goods such as shoes, boots, tennis balls, and waterproof clothing, and for industrial goods such as belting for power transmission and for mechanical conveyors. Goodrich also expanded into chemical production. One of its first products in this field was Vulcalock, an adhesive capable of bonding rubber to metal and used to protect pipes and storage tanks from the corrosive materials they often contained. In 1926 a Goodrich engineer developed a method for plasticizing polyvinyl chloride (PVC), turning this waste chemical compound into the material recognized today as vinyl. Goodrich marketed its PVC products under the brand names Geon and Koroseal, applying them to such varied uses as floor tiles, garden hoses, and electrical insulation. Goodrich also grew with the nations aviation industry, producing airplane tires and the first airplane deicers, important devices used in the achievement of all-weather flying.

The automobile and aviation industries, along with the rubber demand created by World War I, powered Goodrichs expansion through the first 30 years of the 20th century. In 1912 Goodrich re-incorporated as a New York company and increased its production capacity by acquiring the Diamond Rubber Company, which owned plants adjacent to Goodrichs in Akron.

Great Depression Setbacks

On the eve of the Great Depression, Goodrich acquired two more rubber companies, the Hood Rubber Company of Water-town, Massachusetts, and the Miller Rubber Company of Akron. The Depression, however, brought the company its first setbacks since the 1870s. The slowed U.S. economy reduced rubber demand, and Goodrich incurred over $24 million in net losses between 1930 and 1933. The depression also affected the companys labor relations with its 15,000 employees in Akron. The United Rubber Workers union (URW) was formed in 1934, and in 1936 national labor leader John Lewis came to Akron to rally union support. His visit sparked a five-week strike at the plants of Goodrich, Goodyear, and Firestone, temporarily shutting down the nations three largest rubber producers.

Company Perspectives:

BFGoodrich has been transformed from a struggling company engaged primarily in manufacturing commodity products and selling them in highly cyclical markets to a streamlined firm engaged in specialty businesses. The companys products are differentiated from the competition by the use of technology, and its marketing is grounded in the ability to work closely with key industrial customers, anticipating their needs and designing BFGoodrich products which improve the performance of those customers products. It is a particular source, of pride that all this was accomplished through the courage and risk-taking propensity of Goodrichs leadership, including our board of directors; through the skill and experience of Goodrich managers; and through the dedication, intelligence, and hard work of Goodrich people across the company. We did not need outside forces to tell us of the necessity for change, and we did not need outside advisors to tell us how to execute that change.

World War II and Recovery

Recovery for Goodrich came with the nations preparations for World War II. At the time of the wars outbreak in Europe, the United States was importing 97 percent of its crude rubber from Southeast Asia. Japanese expansion in the Pacific threatened this supply, while German advances in Europe and Africa interrupted supply routes through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. In cooperation with the nations rubber companies, the U.S. government began an intensive stockpiling and conservation effort. It also committed itself to developing synthetic rubber technology.

The rubber industry had known how to make synthetic rubber since the late 1930s. In 1937 Goodrich opened a pilot plant for producing butadiene-copolymer synthetic rubber, and within two years it was using synthetic rubber in some of its commercial products. As long as crude rubber supplies were cheap and plentiful, however, synthetic rubber remained an expensive alternative. In 1939 John L. Collyer took over as Goodrichs president after having spent ten years working for a British rubber company. Collyer returned to the United States convinced of its need to develop synthetic rubber production before it was drawn into the European conflict. Under his direction Goodrich introduced in June 1940 the first passenger-car tire in the United States to contain synthetic rubber. Called Ameripolfor its use of a polymer of American materialsthis tire was more expensive than one made of natural rubber, but it gained rapid consumer acceptance because it outlasted conventional tires. After Collyers appearance before a Senate Military Affairs Committee hearing on national preparedness, the federal government announced plans to build its own synthetic rubber plants. Goodrich cooperated with this effort, building and operating three such plants for wartime production in Port Neches and Borger, Texas, and in Louisville, Kentucky. These plants had a combined capacity of 165,000 tons per year, making Goodrich the nations leading synthetic rubber manufacturer by the wars end.

Postwar Return to the Consumer Market

Goodrich avoided any postwar interruptions in its growth by quickly converting to meet consumer demand. The U.S. auto industrys return to peacetime production kept the demand for tires high, and Goodrich met this demand by introducing the first 100 percent synthetic rubber tire in 1945. Two years later it developed the tubeless puncture-sealing tire that increased motorists protection from blow-outs. The companys LifeSaver and Safetyliner tubeless tires gained wide popularity in the early 1950s, and by 1955 tubeless tires became standard equipment on new cars. Ten years later Goodrich brought another innovation to U.S. drivers, the first radial tires for passenger cars. The radial dramatically changed the U.S. tire industry by increasing tire life by up to 50 percent, and like its tubeless predecessor, it ultimately became standard equipment on U.S. cars.

Goodrich further diversified its production in the postwar era. Continuing a long tradition of research and development, it opened a new research center in Brecksville, Ohio, in 1948. B.F. Goodrich Chemical Company, a subsidiary founded in 1943, took over the companys wartime plants and built new ones in Marietta and Avon Lake, Ohio, and in Calvert City, Kentucky. Production of Goodrichs Geon and Koroseal plastic products expanded into overseas markets with joint ventures in Britain and Japan. By 1955 Goodrich was manufacturing goods in five different areas, including tires, chemicals and plastics, footwear and flooring, industrial products, and sponge rubber goods. It had operations in 21 nations on six continents, and in 1966 its sales reached a record $1 billion.

Challenges of 1960s and 1970s

Goodrichs fortunes declined, however, when a 1967 strike began a decade of rocky labor relations and interrupted production. In April 1967 the URW walked off of jobs at Goodrich, Firestone, and Uniroyal, and the resulting strike stalled rubber production in Akron for 86 days. That strike, along with a six-month work stoppage at one of the companys chemical plants, cost Goodrich a 27.6 percent decrease in its profits from the previous year. Three years later Goodrich was once again facing serious losses because of strikes in the rubber and related industries. The URW walked out on Goodrich plants for five weeks, while strikes by the Teamsters Union and General Motors workers also hurt the nations tire markets. Goodrichs net income in 1970 dropped by $22 million. Continued hard times in the nations auto and rubber industries brought Goodrich back to the bargaining table in 1976. A 141-day URW strike stopped production in all of Goodrichs domestic tire plants and finally required the intercession of U.S. Labor Secretary W. J. Usery, Jr. to settle it.

These crippling experiences with labor disputes and the stagnation of the U.S. auto industry convinced Goodrich that its future was not in tires. In 1971 Goodrichs net income had fallen to $1.7 million from a high of $48.6 million in 1966.

Plastics and Aerospace Instead of Tires

Ready for a drastic change, the company handed its reins to a rubber industry outsider in 1972. O. Pendleton Thomas, a former oil executive with the Atlantic Richfield Company, shook up Goodrich by having chemicals and plastics replace tires as the foundation of the companys business. At the time Thomas took over, Goodrichs position among U.S. tiremakers had fallen to a weak fourth and the industry showed no signs of improving. The success of radials had cut consumer demand for replacement tires, while the oil crisis had lessened the U.S. taste for new cars. Thomas streamlined Goodrichs tire operations by closing unprofitable plants and retail outlets and concentrating on certain product niches, such as high-performance replacement tires. By maximizing profits in its tire business, he developed the capital necessary to increase the capacity of Goodrichs chemical and plastics production. In 1976 Thomas changed The B.F. Goodrich Companys name to The BFGoodrich Company.

Thomass program of retrenchment and redeployment allowed his successor, John D. Ong, to develop Goodrichs chemicals business in the 1980s. Goodrich had long been the nations number-one producer of PVC, the versatile plastic used primarily in the construction industry, as well as a producer of specialty chemicals used in products ranging from cosmetics to floor polishes. Like its tire division, Goodrichs chemical production had been hurt by the petroleum shortages and sluggish national economy of the 1970s, but when Ong took over in 1979, he maintained the course set by Thomas. The acquisition in 1979 of Tremco Inc., a producer of roofing products and construction sealants, strengthened Goodrichs position in specialty chemicals markets. Ong also announced plans to double Goodrichs PVC production by the mid-1980s, and he sank millions into the development of a plant in Convent, Louisiana. This project backfired, however, when the nations housing industry went into its worst slump in 36 years and PVC demand plummeted. Goodrich suddenly found itself plagued by an overcapacity in its chemical production, and the company ended 1982 with a $32.8 million loss.

Goodrichs tailspin in the early 1980s led to the most dramatic changes in its history. Taking a record loss of $354.6 million in 1985, the company sold off the Louisiana plant into which it had sunk so much capital. In 1986 Ong merged Goodrichs tire division with Uniroyal, which had just fought a costly takeover battle with corporate raider Carl Icahn. The jointly owned Uniroyal-Goodrich Tire Company looked good on paper for both companies, combining Goodrichs replacement tire business with Uniroyals original equipment market to make it the nations second largest tire producer. Unfortunately, the relationship faltered, and in December 1987 Goodrich sold its interest in the venture for $225 million to an investment group that had already bought out Uniroyal. Shortly thereafter, Goodrich sold off its 38-acre factory complex in Akron, ending its nearly century-long association with the U.S. tire industry. In 1988 Goodrich acquired Tramco Incorporated, a provider of maintenance and repair services for commercial aircraft.

Strategic Moves in the 1990s

With the full divestiture of its tire business, Goodrich became a company devoted solely to the production of chemicals, plastics, and aerospace goods. The recovery of its PVC business and the wise investment of capital gained from its tire division sale had in the early 1990s stabilized the company. But in 1993 chief executive John D. Ong sold off the PVC business, to the concern of investors, in favor of emphasizing the companys other chemical businesses.

Some analysts were skeptical of these strategic turns. Writer Zachary Schiller of Business Week, for example, noted that The company has produced an average annual return on equity of just 1.4 percent since Ong became CEO in 1979, compared with an average of 14.4 percent for the companies in the Standard & Poors Industrials index. Moreover, the companies in the S&P index posted a 5.4 percent annual gain, but Goodrichs sales fell an average of 3.5 percent per year, wrote Schiller. Stock lagged at 44, not even close to its 1989 height of 69.

Ong, however, noted for his willingness to change course, pushed into aerospace, although the industry had been sluggish for more than a decade. He built on Goodrichs aircraft parts and servicing business. Using proceeds from the sale of PVC, BFGoodrich acquired in 1993 Cleveland Pneumatic Co., a landing gear maker that complemented Goodrichs wheel-and-brake business, and Rosemount Aerospace, which made sensors that measure flight and data (speed and temperature, for example). That same year also marked the additions of the Landing Gear Division and Landing Gear Services Division, and Sanncor Industries.

Ong persisted with his current business mix, pointing out that the company was now positioned for growth opportunities. By 1994 the specialty chemical business started to show improvement, and the aerospace business held promise. The air-craft wheel-and-brake business gradually grew into aircraft parts and servicing. The following year BFGoodrich acquired QSI, Inc. in Greenville, South Carolina. In 1995 purchases included Hoskins Aviation and de-icing product lines and associated technology from Lucas Aerospace.

By 1996 BFGoodrich reported that earnings in 1996 were significantly higher than in the past three years. For the second year in a row, BFGoodrich Aerospace and BFGoodrich Specialty Chemical set records for sales and operating income. The growing demand for replacement products and service proved advantageous to the aerospace division, which also benefited from the upturn in new commercial aircraft production. BFGoodrich Specialty Chemicals acquired five businesses and increased manufacturing capacity at existing facilities. Moreover, three new plants were seen as the base for further expansion in Europe and Asia.

In the mid-1990s, Ong reflected on the last decade that took BFGoodrich from a struggling company that manufactured commodity products and sold them in highly cyclical markets to a streamlined organization focused on specialty businesses. He noted that the companys inclination for risk-taking lay within the BFGoodrich structure rather than outside. By late 1996 BFGoodrich shares reached historic, 126-year highs and trade at levels once thought unlikely, Ong said. He added that after challenges rocked corporate America in the 1980s and 1990s, BFGoodrich started reaching goals. Ong noted that market capitalization at the end of 1996 had increased by about 100 percent from the time the new BFGoodrich came into being at the end of 1993.

As Ong was slated to retire in 1997, David L. Burner was tapped to succeed him. Meanwhile BFGoodrich remained focused on growth and improved returns as an aerospace and specialty chemicals company. Acquisitions that complemented and strengthened its current businesses remained on the forefront. Businesses not central to the strategy were ripe for divestment, as in the 1996 sale of Tremco to RPM, Inc., with the proceeds invested in the expansion of aerospace and specialty chemicals. BFGoodrich anticipated growth in sales and earnings in 1997 and 1998, excluding special items. Continuing expansion of current business worldwide and strategic acquisitions were expected to sustain growth.

Principal Divisions

BFGoodrich Aerospace; BFGoodrich Specialty Chemicals.

Further Reading

B.F. Goodrich Story: Nine Stories Celebrating One Hundred Twenty-Five Years, Akron Ohio: B.F. Goodrich Corporate Communications, 1995.

Collyer, John Lyon, The B.F. Goodrich Story of Creative Enterprise: 18701952, New York: The Newcomen Society in North America, 1952.

Deutsch, Claudia H., Goodrich Finally Gets It Right, The New York Times, March 12, 1989.

Goodrichs Cash Cow Starts to Deliver, Business Week, November 14, 1977.

Ong, John D., The BFGoodrich Company: A Proud Heritage, An Exciting Future, New York: Newcomen Society of the United States, 1995.

Schiller, Zachary, Goodrich: From Tires to PVC to Chemicals to Aerospace, Business Week, July 18, 1994, pp. 8687.

Timothy J. Shannon

udpated by Catherine Hamrick

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The BFGoodrich Company

The BFGoodrich Company

3925 Embassy Parkway
Akron, Ohio 44333
U.S.A.
(216) 374-2000
Fax: (216) 374-3338

Public Company
Incorporated: 1870 as Goodrich, Tew and Company
Employees: 14,700
Sales: $2.43 billion
Stock Exchange: New York

The BFGoodrich Company manufactures and markets a variety of chemical, plastic, and aerospace products. Throughout most of its history Goodrich built its business on rubber production, gaining a reputation among U.S. tire makers as a leader in product development and innovation. In the early 20th century Goodrich used its experience in the rubber industry to diversify into chemicals and plastics, and it spearheaded the development of synthetic rubber technology during World War II. The company prospered during the postwar era but faced difficulties when the U.S. auto industrys decline in the 1970s curtailed the demand for tires. Convinced that its future lay in chemicals and plastics, the companys directors embarked on a long and often difficult restructuring plan. Goodrich finally divested itself of its tire business in 1987, emerging as a much leaner and more profitable company.

Benjamin Franklin Goodrich followed a circuitous route into the rubber industry. Born in Ripley, New York, in 1841, Goodrich pursued an education in medicine and served as an assistant surgeon in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. After the war Goodrich pursued a career in business and entered into a real estate partnership with John P. Morris of New York City. In 1869 the partners found themselves investors in a small operation called the Hudson River Rubber Company. They soon acquired full ownership of the company, and Goodrich took over as its president.

Goodrich was not impressed with the companys prospects in New York, and he considered moving it west, where a growing population and economy offered plenty of opportunities for expansion. After listening to a stranger praise a canal town in Ohio called Akron, he investigated it for himself. Akrons citizens were as anxious to attract business as Goodrich was to develop it. After his visit a group of 19 potential investors sent George T. Perkins back to New York with Goodrich to examine his operations there. The group received a favorable report, and it loaned Goodrich the money he needed to move west. On December 31, 1870, Goodrich formed the partnership of Goodrich, Tew and Company, with his brother-in-law Harvey W. Tew and the Akron investors. After completing a two-story factory on the banks of the Ohio Canal, Goodrich was in business as the first rubber company west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Goodrich experienced a shaky start during its first decade. The companys first product was a cotton-covered firehose designed to withstand the high pressures and low temperatures that often caused leather hoses to burst. While the firehose was a welcome innovation among the nations firefighters, poor financing led to several reorganizations within the company. George W. Crouse, one of the original Akron investors, finally stabilized the companys finances with an additional loan in 1880, and it was incorporated in the state of Ohio as The B.F. Goodrich Company.

Goodrich died in 1888, just a few years before the bicycle craze of the 1890s revolutionized his company and the rubber industry. Among the companys early products had been the solid-band tire used on bicycles of the 1880s. The invention of the pneumatic tire in 1890 greatly increased the comfort of bicycle riding, and Goodrich began turning out bicycle tires to keep pace with the popularity of this recreation. The introduction of cord tires, which increased the speed of bicycles, and the adaptation of pneumatic tires to horse-drawn buggies expanded the nations rubber markets further. Goodrich increased its capacity with each addition to its tire demand, and company engineers cooperated with independent inventors to find new applications for company products.

The most important of these joint efforts was a contribution Goodrich made to the nations infant automobile industry. In 1897 Alexander Winton of Cleveland, Ohio, organized the Winton Motor Car Company to market his horseless carriages. He asked Goodrich to develop a pneumatic tire strong enough to handle its high speeds and heavier loads. Goodrich responded with the first pneumatic tires for automobiles, beginning a long partnership with the auto industry that became the foundation for the companys profits for the next 70 years.

From very early in its history Goodrich committed itself to research and development in rubber technology. Under the aegis of Goodrichs son Charles Cross Goodrich, the company opened the rubber industrys first experimental research laboratory in 1895. Arthur H. Marks, one of Goodrichs engineers, was responsible for several breakthroughs in the processing of crude rubber. In its natural form, crude rubber is very sensitive to changes in temperature, becoming hard and brittle when cooled, and soft and tacky when heated. Vulcanization, a process first discovered by Charles Goodyear in 1839, mixes crude rubber with sulfur and heat to convert it to a durable material unaffected by changes in climate. At the turn of the century, Arthur Marks pioneered a procedure for devulcanizing vulcanized rubber, thus enabling producers to reclaim crude rubber from manufactured goods for re-use. Marks also developed methods for speeding vulcanization by adding certain organic chemical accelerators to the process. The use of such compounds reduced the time necessary for vulcanization by as much as 75%.

Goodrich continued to apply the latest technology to its tire production. In 1910 it introduced the first cord tire for use on U.S. automobiles. This tire, which reduced fuel consumption and increased the comfort of the ride, was developed in Silver-town, England, and marketed there as the Palmer Cord. Goodrich purchased the patent rights for it in the United States and sold it to U.S. consumers as the Silvertown Cord. Other innovations in Goodrichs tire manufacturing included the use of other organic compounds to resist deterioration by heat, oxidation, and flexing; and carbon black, a coloring pigment that improved the tires resistance to abrasion.

Goodrichs success in its tire business led it into product diversifications. By the time of World War I, it was producing rubber for consumer goods such as shoes, boots, tennis balls, and waterproof clothing, and for industrial goods such as belting for power transmission and for mechanical conveyors. Goodrich also expanded into chemical production. One of its first products in this field was Vulcalock, an adhesive capable of bonding rubber to metal and used to protect pipes and storage tanks from the corrosive materials they often contained. In 1926 a Goodrich engineer developed a method for plasticizing polyvinyl chloride (PVC), turning this waste chemical compound into the material recognized today as vinyl. Goodrich marketed its PVC products under the brand names Geon and Koroseal, applying them to such varied uses as floor tiles, garden hoses, and electrical insulation. Goodrich also grew with the nations aviation industry, producing airplane tires and the first airplane de-icers, important devices used in the achievement of all-weather flying.

The automobile and aviation industries, along with the rubber demand created by World War I, powered Goodrichs expansion through the first 30 years of the 20th century. In 1912 Goodrich re-incorporated as a New York company and increased its production capacity by acquiring the Diamond Rubber Company, which owned plants adjacent to Goodrichs in Akron. On the eve of the Great Depression, Goodrich acquired two more rubber companies, the Hood Rubber Company of Watertown, Massachusetts, and the Miller Rubber Company of Akron. The Depression, however, brought the company its first setbacks since the 1870s. The slowed U.S. economy reduced rubber demand, and Goodrich incurred over $24 million in net losses between 1930 and 1933. The depression also affected the companys labor relations with its 15,000 employees in Akron. The United Rubber Workers union (URW) formed in 1934, and in 1936 national labor leader John Lewis came to Akron to rally union support. His visit sparked a five-week strike at the plants of Goodrich, Goodyear, and Firestone, temporarily shutting down the nations three largest rubber producers.

Recovery for Goodrich came with the nations preparations for World War II. At the time of the wars outbreak in Europe, the United States was importing 97% of its crude rubber from Southeast Asia. Japanese expansion in the Pacific threatened this supply, while German advances in Europe and Africa interrupted supply routes through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. In cooperation with the nations rubber companies, the U.S. government began an intensive stockpiling and conservation effort. It also committed itself to developing synthetic rubber technology.

The rubber industry had known how to make synthetic rubber since the late 1930s. In 1937 Goodrich opened a pilot plant for producing butadiene-copolymer synthetic rubber, and within two years it was using synthetic rubber in some of its commercial products. As long as crude rubber supplies were cheap and plentiful, however, synthetic rubber remained an expensive alternative. In 1939 John L. Collyer took over as Goodrichs president after having spent ten years working for a British rubber company. Collyer returned to the United States convinced of its need to develop synthetic rubber production before it was drawn into the European conflict. Under his direction Goodrich introduced in June 1940 the first passenger-car tire in the United States to contain synthetic rubber. Called Ameripolfor its use of a polymer of American materials this tire was more expensive than one made of natural rubber, but it gained rapid consumer acceptance because it outlasted conventional tires. After Collyers appearance before a Senate Military Affairs Committee hearing on national preparedness, the federal government announced plans to build its own synthetic rubber plants. Goodrich cooperated with this effort, building and operating three such plants for wartime production in Port Neches and Borger, Texas, and in Louisville, Kentucky. These plants had a combined capacity of 165,000 tons per year, making Goodrich the nations leading synthetic rubber manufacturer by the wars end.

Goodrich avoided any postwar interruptions in its growth by quickly converting to meet consumer demand. The U.S. auto industrys return to peacetime production kept the demand for tires high, and Goodrich met this demand by introducing the first 100% synthetic rubber tire in 1945. Two years later it developed the tubeless puncture-sealing tire that increased motorists protection from blow-outs. The companys LifeSaver and Safetyliner tubeless tires gained wide popularity in the early 1950s, and by 1955 tubeless tires became standard equipment on new cars. Ten years later Goodrich brought another innovation to U.S. drivers, the first radial tires for passenger cars. The radial dramatically changed the U.S. tire industry by increasing tire life by up to 50%, and like its tubeless predecessor it ultimately became standard equipment on U.S. cars.

Goodrich further diversified its production in the postwar era. Continuing a long tradition of research and development, it opened a new research center in Brecksville, Ohio, in 1948. B.F. Goodrich Chemical Company, a subsidiary founded in 1943, took over the companys wartime plants and built new ones in Marietta and Avon Lake, Ohio, and in Calvert City, Kentucky. Production of Goodrichs Geon and Koroseal plastic products expanded into overseas markets with joint ventures in Britain and Japan. By 1955 Goodrich was manufacturing goods in five different areas, including tires, chemicals and plastics, footwear and flooring, industrial products, and sponge rubber goods. It had operations in 21 nations on 6 continents, and in 1966 its sales reached a record $1 billion.

Goodrichs fortunes declined, however, when a 1967 strike began a decade of rocky labor relations and interrupted production. In April 1967 the URW walked off of jobs at Goodrich, Firestone, and Uniroyal, and the resulting strike stalled rubber production in Akron for 86 days. That strike, along with a six-month work stoppage at one of the companys chemical plants, cost Goodrich a 27.6% decrease in its profits from the previous year. Three years later Goodrich was once again facing serious losses because of strikes in the rubber and related industries. The URW walked out on Goodrich plants for five weeks, while strikes by the Teamsters Union and General Motors workers also hurt the nations tire markets. Goodrichs net income in 1970 dropped by $22 million. Continued hard times in the nations auto and rubber industries brought Goodrich back to the bargaining table in 1976. A 141-day URW strike stopped production in all of Goodrichs domestic tire plants and finally required the intercession of U.S. Labor Secretary W. J. Usery Jr. to settle it.

These crippling experiences with labor disputes and the stagnation of the U.S. auto industry convinced Goodrich that its future was not in tires. In 1971 Goodrichs net income had fallen to $1.7 million from a high of $48.6 million in 1966. Ready for a drastic change, the company handed its reins to a rubber industry outsider in 1972. O. Pendleton Thomas, a former oil executive with the Atlantic Richfield Company, shook up Goodrich by having chemicals and plastics replace tires as the foundation of the companys business. At the time Thomas took over, Goodrichs position among U.S. tiremakers had fallen to a weak fourth, and the industry showed no signs of improving. The success of radials had cut consumer demand for replacement tires while the oil crisis had lessened the U.S. taste for new cars. Thomas streamlined Goodrichs tire operations by closing unprofitable plants and retail outlets and concentrating on certain product niches, such as high-performance replacement tires. By maximizing profits in its tire business, he developed the capital necessary to increase the capacity of Goodrichs chemical and plastics production. In 1976 Thomas changed The B.F. Goodrich Companys name, to The BFGoodrich Company.

Thomass program of retrenchment and redeployment allowed his successor, John D. Ong, to develop Goodrichs chemicals business in the 1980s. Goodrich had long been the nations number-one producer of PVC, the versatile plastic used primarily in the construction industry, as well as a producer of specialty chemicals used in products ranging from cosmetics to floor polishes. Like its tire division, Goodrichs chemical production had been hurt by the petroleum shortages and sluggish national economy of the 1970s, but when Ong took over in 1979 he maintained the course set by Thomas. The acquisition of Tremco Inc., in 1979, a producer of roofing products and construction sealants, strengthened Goodrichs position in specialty chemicals markets. Ong also announced plans to double Goodrichs PVC production by the mid-1980s, and he sunk millions into the development of a plant in Convent, Louisiana. This project backfired, however, when the nations housing industry went into its worst slump in 36 years and PVC demand plummeted. Goodrich suddenly found itself plagued by an overcapacity in its chemical production, and the company ended 1982 with a $32.8 million loss.

Goodrichs tailspin in the early 1980s led to the most dramatic changes in its history. Taking a record loss of $354.6 million in 1985, the company sold off the Louisiana plant into which it had sunk so much capital. In 1986 Ong merged Goodrichs tire division with Uniroyal, which had just fought a costly takeover battle with corporate raider Carl Icahn. The jointly owned Uniroyal-Goodrich Tire Company looked good on paper for both companies, combining Goodrichs replacement tire business with Uniroyals original equipment market to make it the nations second largest tire producer. Unfortunately the relationship faltered, and in December 1987 Goodrich sold its interest in the venture for $225 million to an investment group that had already bought out Uniroyal. Shortly thereafter, Goodrich sold off its 38-acre factory complex in Akron, ending its nearly century-long association with the U.S. tire industry.

With the full divestiture of its tire business, Goodrich became a company devoted solely to the production of chemicals, plastics, and aerospace goods. The recovery of its PVC business and the wise investment of capital gained from its tire division sale had in the early 1990s stabilized the company. Its biggest growth area since 1987 had been its aerospace division. Goodrich manufactures and markets aircraft brakes, wheels, and electronics, and in 1988 it acquired Tramco Incorporated, a provider of maintenance and repair services for commercial aircraft. In the absence of its tire business, the companys chemicals and plastics production had also expanded, to account for 80% of its sales.

John N. Lauer, who joined the company from Hoechst Celanese in January 1989, was elected company president in September 1990, making him the heir apparent to Ong and cementing Goodrichs commitment to its chemicals and plastics business. After years of rocky performance, Goodrich faces the future a much leaner and more competitive company than it had been in its past.

Principal Divisions

BFGoodrich Aerospace; BFGoodrich Geon Vinyl; BFGoodrich Specialty Polymers and Chemicals; Tremco, Inc.

Further Reading

Collyer, John Lyon, The B.F. Goodrich Story of Creative Enterprise: 1870-1952, New York, The Newcomen Society in North America, 1952; Goodrichs cash cow starts to deliver, Business Week, November 14, 1977; Deutsch, Claudia H., Goodrich Finally Gets It Right, The New York Times, March 12, 1989.

Timothy J. Shannon

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