The Long History of Kelly Springfield Tires

Kelly Springfield Tires have been around even longer than cars ...


K-S has a long and varied history

The Kelly Springfield Tires Company is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.

  • Kelly Springfield currently manufactures 54 brands of tires for cars, trucks, and farm vehicles.

  • The organization distributes to private dealers and store chains throughout North America.

  • Kelly-Springfield is America’s most important manufacturer of custom brand tires, as well as

  • the world's top producer of tires for farming purposes.

  • The organization operates the largest tire manufacturing plant in the world, located at Fayetteville, North Carolina.


A Close Look at Who Started Kelly Springfield Tires

Kelly Springfield was founded by Edwin S. Kelly in 1894. Kelly pooled his resources with another entrepreneur named Arthur W. Grant, to establish the tire company at a time when consumer demand for rubber was high, although at the time it was mainly driven by a bicycle craze.

assistantIt was only five years after Grant and Kelly had created their company that they decided to put it up for sale. They had gone into considerable debt to start the company and sold the company to the McMillin Company in 1899 for one million dollars. Arthur W. Grant decided to leave the tire industry, but Kelly stayed on, taking a role as general manager and vice president of the renamed firm, the Consolidated Rubber Tire Company. The organization then changed its name again in 1914 to the Kelly Springfield Tire Company.

As vice president, Kelly purchased the Buckeye Rubber Company in New Jersey. He also became the driving force behind the purchase of the Columbia Pneumatic Wagon Wheel Company. At the time, a revolutionary new invention called the compressed air filled tire (or pneumatic) was starting to make its presence felt.

The company began manufacturing pneumatic auto tires in 1908. The market for pneumatic car tires remained small until Henry Ford's Model-Ts became available at very affordable prices. The First World War also tremendously influenced the demand for tires both in America and around the world.

The Effect of the First World War on Kelly Springfield

Wartime profits enabled the company’s managers to plan the construction of the biggest and most modern tire manufacturing facility in the world in Cumberland. Work on the manufacturing facility begun in 1917, and was finally completed in1921. Despite the 1920s being prosperous for many companies, Kelly Springfield soon went bankrupt.

Edmund S. Burke took the helm as president of Kelly-Springfield in 1935, and remained in charge of the organization until 1959. Under his management, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company were persuaded to acquire Kelly Springfield as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Burke had a good mind for business but he was very conservative at the same time. He supported the innovation of selling products in gasoline stations, and this dramatically increased company sales for the first time since the end of the First World War.

How Advertising Helped Boost Sales of Kelly Springfield

Advertising was one thing Kelly Springfield Tires was well known for since its early days. Kelly Springfield tires were heavily advertised in all major glossy magazines of the day. And from 1915 to 1930, Kelly Springfield Tires even sponsored Broadway shows, and famous names in sports and theatre were recruited to promote Kelly Springfield tires. Burke kept up the advertising, including huge electric sign displays in New York's Times Square and other major cities.

kelly springfield poster

The Second World War brought a major crisis in the way of a shortage of natural rubber. The rationing of rubber threatened the existence of many small rubber companies. Kelly Springfield, under Burke's helm, acted quickly and switched from producing tires to munitions. By 1943, synthetic rubber had been invented, and the U.S government ordered Kelly Springfield to return to making tires, of which there was a shortage.

Like many others, the company prospered during and after the war. When Burke retired in 1959 the company was 60 years old and had changed little over the years. Kelly Springfield Tires had failed to expand either its operations or its market range. 1962, Kelly Springfield acquired the Star Rubber Company, which was best known as a company that originally devised the first radial tires. Kelly also acquired three other corporations connected to Star: the Hick's Rubber Company, Richmond Rubber Company, and Richmond Tire & Rubber Company. In 1975, these subsidiaries merged as divisions within Kelly Springfield. In 1987, The Lee Tire & Rubber Company was acquired by Kelly Springfield as a subsidiary, also merging with Kelly-Springfield several years later.

Kelly Springfield Tires and its Modern Attitude towards Expansion

Kelly Springfield Tires has undertaken an expansionistic attitude since Burke’s departure, and profits have soared, achieving its first $1 billion in sales in the late 1980s. Kelly Springfield also expanded into farm equipment tires and its products can be purchased through the likes of Sears, WalMart, and K-Mart.

Production of its tires increased with the addition of new facilities under new President and CEO George B. Newman. In 1961, the Tyler, Texas plant was constructed, followed by new facilities in Freeport, Illinois and the largest tire manufacturing plant in the world, in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Approximately 70 countries currently market Kelly Springfield tires, thanks in part to Goodyear's international distribution network.

Kelly Springfield Tires has become a large, modern, profitable tire company that manufactures over 50 Kelly Springfield brands of tires and thousands of custom brand tires. Kelly Springfield's parent company, Goodyear, is the only major American tire company to have survived takeover bids from foreign concerns.

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