Harvey Firestone and the Rubber Tractor Tire


During the late 1950s, the original brick farm house still stood on the Firestone Homestead farm east of nearby Columbiana, Ohio, before being moved to Greenfield Village near Detroit. During this time I was sent to the Firestone house to repair the telephone. I remember that hanging on the wall, just above the phone, was a framed photograph, taken during the 1930s, of a lineup of all of the farm's machinery. The photo had been taken from a high spot, probably the barn roof or silo, and showed a Farmall F-20 or Regular tractor, along with the farm’s complete line of horse drawn and tractor implements, all shod with Firestone tires.

Harvey S. Firestone, 1868-1938, founded the giant tire company named after him and was an enthusiastic proponent of using pneumatic tires on farm tractors and machinery, which he tested on the Columbiana farm.

The first recorded attempt to use rubber tires was the English built "Thompson's Rubber Tire Steamer" that was purported to "haul through soft ground, pull a gang of seven plows, and speed along the road at 10 miles per hour." The machine was tested in California's San Joaquin Valley in 1871, but was unsuccessful.

The second was in 1918, when the International Harvester Co. tried rubber on an 8-16 tractor. "The front wheels were fitted with solid-section rubber tires; the rear wheels with solid-section blocks moulded to metal detachable lugs and the blocks were made by the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co." reported IHC's engineer, L.B. Sperry. The off-road traction was unsatisfactory and the rubber block's adhesion to the metal lug wasn't good, so the attempt never got beyond the experimental stage.

The rural road net was being paved during the late 1920s and there was much opposition to steel lug wheels damaging the pavement. Many states passed laws prohibiting their use and farmers had to plank the roads to move their tractors on them or face fines. Detachable steel lugs or smooth steel overtires were sold but were cumbersome and time-consuming to use.

Industrial tractors had used solid rubber tires since the early 1920s but they provided little traction in grassy or muddy fields, Farmers and tractor builders began experimenting with truck and airplane tires and the B.F. Goodrich Co. got into the act. Early in 1931 BFG announced their "zero pressure" farm tractor tire. It was neither pneumatic nor solid, but had a web of solid piers inside that supported the outer arch which was said to give the tire enough flexibility to provide full soil contact and superior traction, besides being puncture proof. This tire must not have caught on, because in 1933 Goodrich was advertising a self-cleaning, low pressure tire using a tube.


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