Frank A. Seiberling was 38, and left without much money due to the effect of the depression of the 1890s on his family's investments, when he and his brother Charles founded The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in 1898. He lived to see it become the world's largest tire and rubber company. Known as the "Little Napoleon" of the rubber industry because of his small stature and his unremitting determination to succeed, he played a leading role in developing Akron, Ohio from a small town into the rubber center of the world.
Seiberling was born on October 6, 1859 in Western Star, Ohio, a hamlet only a few miles from the site of the company he was to found. In 1861, when Seiberling was two-years-old, his family moved to Doylestown, Ohio, and four years later again moved, this time to Akron. Seiberling had one brother and seven sisters.
After attending elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse and high school at Jennings School, Seiberling entered Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio at age 16. Leaving Heidelberg after two years, he went to work for his father who was the founder of the Empire Mower Works, which produced the Excelsior Mower & Reaper and other agricultural machinery.
Several years later, when his father obtained control of the Akron Electric Street Railway, Seiberling and his younger brother Charles, were put in charge of the traction system. Together, they operated Akron's first electric street railway. But the trolley company did not have the appeal for Seiberling that his father's manufacturing business did, and by 1884 he was back with the J.F. Seiberling Company as its secretary and treasurer.
On October 12, 1887, Seiberling married Gertrude Penfield at her parents' home in Willoughby, Ohio. The couple had seven children between 1888 and 1907, one of whom died of pneumonia in infancy.
When the depression of the 1890s brought the collapse of many businesses, including that of his father, Seiberling found himself jobless.
Through a chance remark in Chicago, Seiberling learned of the availability of an old strawboard factory in East Akron. The property was two rundown buildings facing one another across the Little Cuyahoga River with a small power plant and seven acres of land. The asking price was $40,000. Almost on the spot, Seiberling offered to purchase the property for $13,500, an offer that was accepted. He agreed to a down payment of $3.500 with four subsequent annual payments of the same amount.
Seiberling returned to Akron that night owning a property he never intended to buy. The fact that he had neither cash nor credit was no deterrent to his enthusiasm. The next morning he borrowed $3,500 from his brother-in-law Lucius C. Miles to close the deal and in a few days had decided what business he would go into, picked a name, and was selling stock.
The business would be rubber.
The company would be named for Charles Goodyear, the discoverer of vulcanization, who had died penniless almost 40 years before. The company was incorporated on August 29, 1898 with initial capital of $100,000. After renovating the old buildings and acquiring the necessary manufacturing equipment, production began in November 1898. Goodyear's first products were poker chips, horseshoe pads, bicycle tires and carriage tires.
Pondering a trademark in 1900, Seiberling thought of a statuette of Mercury, to the ancient Romans the messenger of the gods, which stood on the newel post of the stairway in his home. He chose Mercury's winged foot as the trademark because to him it symbolized the carrying of good tidings to tire users around the world. A logo with the winged foot separating the words "Good" and "Year" was created.
While Seiberling and his brother Charles were the company's co-founders, David E. Hill, a business associate who purchased $30,000 of the company's initial stock, served as its first president. Seiberling served as the company's secretary and general manager. He did not take over the company's leadership as president until 1906.
Goodyear's first year produced a profit of $34,621 on sales of $508,597. A year later, it introduced its first pneumatic tire for automobiles, won a patent for the tubeless tire in 1903, developed pneumatic tires for airplanes in 1909, had become the world's largest tire company by 1916 and had exceeded $100 million in sales by 1917.
At the beginning of World War I, Goodyear was the only U.S. company prepared to supply the war effort with balloons, dirigibles and observation balloons. Seiberling was chiefly responsible for the development of the American lighter-than-aircraft industry, lending technological and financial support from Goodyear to its development. He brought Germany's Zeppelin interests to the U.S. in behalf of Goodyear. The country's first airship, the "Akron," was built in 1910 under his sponsorship.
During a post-war recession, in 1921, Seiberling gave up control of Goodyear to its bankers and resigned. Six months later, at age 62, he launched Seiberling Rubber Company in nearby Barberton, Ohio. He served as president of Seiberling Rubber until 1938 when his son Penfield succeeded him and remained at his desk as chairman of the board of directors until 1950, when he retired at the age of 90.
Credited with one of the rubber industry's greatest inventive minds, Seiberling was instrumental in the development of the first tire-building machine, straightside tires and detachable rims.
Under his leadership, Goodyear Heights, a residential section of Akron, was founded in 1912 to provide housing for Goodyear employees and their families. Seiberling personally purchased approximately 100 acres of land for the project. Complete with a park and athletic field, Goodyear Heights offered nearly 1,600 affordable homes to Goodyear employees - single-family dwellings in 19 different architectural styles complete with both front and back yards. To give Goodyear Heights, and Fairlawn Heights - another Akron residential area he developed - a naturalistic look in an era of city planning on a grid system Seiberling called upon Warren Manning, the noted landscape architect, to design the curving roads and landscape plans.
The fourth president of the Akron Chamber of Commerce, Seiberling was appointed the regional director for the United States Chamber of Commerce during World War I, and supervised activities in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio. In 1910, he also helped found and fund the Lincoln Highway Association, an organization interested in improved motoring. During his tenure as president of the Association in 1918, the first hard road surface to extend the width of the United States was completed and it was known as U.S. Route 30. In Akron, he was a trustee of Buchtel College (now the University of Akron) and donated a new library to the institution in 1915. And, beginning in 1929, Seiberling made the first of many land donations to help initiate Akron's metropolitan parks system.
In 1985, Seiberling was inducted into the Tire Industry Hall of Fame as a member of its inaugural class.
Seiberling died in Akron on August 11, 1955, at age 95.
Frank A. Seiberling