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History of Pennsylvania Rubber

Pennsylvania Rubber imageIn 1999 OMNOVA was created as a spinoff from GenCorp, which grew out of the General Tire & Rubber Company, founded by William O'Neil, a former Firestone Company dealer who in 1911 quit to strike out on his own. His first business, Western Tire and Rubber, made tire repair materials in Kansas City. He relocated four years later to Akron, Ohio, which was quickly becoming the "Rubber Capital of the World," home to Goodyear, Goodrich, and Firestone, as well as General Tire. Akron was also where O'Neil's father, Michael O'Neil, owned a department store. Father and son launched General Tire to make repair materials but a year later, in 1916, it began to manufacture tires. General expanded over the next dozen years and although it controlled less than 2 percent of the tire market, concentrating on the higher-price range, by the start of the 1930s it was established enough to survive the Great Depression and complete a pair of acquisitions: Yale Tire and Rubber and India Tire and Rubber. It also began to diversify, turning at first to the ownership of radio stations.

General shifted to defense products during World War II, picking up Aerojet, a missile manufacturer which would become a major part of GenCorp. Because of natural rubber shortages caused by the war, General was also forced to become heavily involved in the production of synthetic rubber, which provided a natural bridge to the chemical industry. Before General's major push into performance chemicals, it made an acquisition that would form the basis of OMNOVA's Decorative & Building Products business segment. In 1945 it inherited a coated fabrics plant, located in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, after acquiring the Pennsylvania Rubber Company. In the postwar years General continued to diversify, creating an industrial products division to produce plastic and metal parts for electric appliances and aircraft. On the media side, General bought television stations in New York, Los Angeles, and Memphis, then acquired RKO Pictures from Howard Hughes to provide programming. The company also ramped up its production of synthetic rubber, which again became a necessity in the tire industry due to a shortage of natural rubber caused by the Korean War.

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