The automotive industry was one factor in driving the production of a variety of essential components in factories across Canada. Bicycles, also popular, required a variety of parts in order to function properly. Many of these products required the use of natural rubber, usually imported from India or Africa. This was to create supply interruptions when war erupted.
Although used in other car and bicycle components, rubber found one extensive and reliable use – in the manufacture of tires. Until 1933, when synthetic rubber became available, natural rubber was in high demand by tire manufacturers across the world. Other innovations included pneumatic tires in 1888 and tires with treads in 1905.
Guelph Tire Companies
Guelph was quick to embrace the automotive craze of the early 20th century. Although it never did manage to sustain the production of automobiles, it did more than satisfactory in manufacturing a variety of car components – a trend that continues today. However, in the early 19th century, where it increased factory size and employment was in the production of tires. Among the several tire companies locating in Guelph – all, interestingly enough in the same facility on Metcalfe (Huron) Street, and Clarke (Ferguson) Street, conveniently near the railroad tracks.
The Independent Tire Company (1912/1913-1919)
This enterprise came to Guelph in 1912/1913. Plans were first laid in 1911. City Council was considering loaning the company $20,000 to open a plant on or before July 1912. This did not happen. Construction took longer than had been anticipated.
The architect was WA Mahoney. The contractor was PH Secord & Sons. The structure was to be a 4-storey building with the factory measuring 60’x300’. The roof was to be flat and coated with gravel and tar. Steel beams and iron columns, fire escapes and a freight elevator were to be integral to the construction.
The company did not begin to manufacture tires until 1913 in its purpose-built factory on Metcalfe Street. Initially, it employed 40 hands. The company imported machinery from the United States for their thoroughly modern factory. They had the intent of producing a variety of items from natural rubber including tires for:
In 1913, the media was claiming the Independent Tire Company to be the “only factory of its kind in Canada.” It was then under the management of John McHardy. He had been an alderman in 1895 (St. Patrick’s Ward) and was part owner of a pork-packing business.
McHardy was also an avid automobile fan. He owned one of the first three cars in Guelph. In 1903, he boasted of owning an Autocar and, according to some reports, particularly one published in 1921 in the Guelph Mercury, he had had a garage built specifically to house and care for his machine back in 1901. This would have made him the first owner of an automobile in Guelph.
McHardy’s general manager in the Independent Tire company in 1913 was HH Hastings. The two men would have appeared to be the ideal individuals to both establish and run this fledgling rubber company. Yet, as everyone knows, appearances can be misleading.
Whether the lack of rubber, as quoted at one time in 1914 by the company, affected its success was the major factor in the industrial concern’s demise, is not known. Whatever the reasons, by 1915, the Independent Tire Company was in serious trouble. An attempt to revive it failed. It soon ended up sharing its premises with the Guelph Tire & Rubber Co, later the Standard Tire and Rubber Company, then finally, the Partridge Rubber Company moved into the Metcalfe building and bought out both Independent and Standard Rubber Companies by 1919.
The Guelph Tire and Rubber Company, Limited (1915-1915/1916)
This company was incorporated on March 31, 1915. Its Board of Directors consisted of 7 individuals. All were not Guelphites. In May, 1915, its board was granted the right to purchase the property. By September 1915, it was busy with 20 men working on producing products and had taken over the premises of the Independent Rubber Company which was experiencing economic issues. It only remained as the Guelph Tire and Rubber Company for a brief period before becoming the Standard Tire and Rubber Company.
Standard Tire and Rubber Company (1915/1916-1916/1917)
Little is known about the Standard Tire Company. According to an article published in the Guelph Mercury in September 1915, it had formerly been known as the Independent Tire and Rubber Company of Toronto. It then became the Guelph Tire and Rubber Company. The local paper also noted that the new name resulted in changing the names on the tire moulds. The process resulted in a slowdown of work in this area.
The Standard Tire and Rubber Company employed 26 men in its plant in September 1915. It was expected the number would increase as the new moulds became available.
During the war, the company managed to get a big contract. This forestalled their removal in May 1916.
However, the board was still actively looking for a buyer. They rejected an American firm in May 1916. The potential buyer was not offering enough money. A few months later the Board found one. Standard was purchased by Partridge Rubber in August 1916 allowing them to move into the Metcalfe building in 1916.
F.E. Partridge Tire Company (1916-1925/26)
This was the largest and most successful of Guelph’s tire-producing companies. It had factories in Montreal, Quebec. Its president was F. E. Partridge. He was a veteran in the rubber manufacturing industry having been active for around 20 years, starting with the Maynard Rubber Co., Claremont, New Hampshire in 1894. He worked his way up until he became vice-president of the Canadian Rubber Co., Montreal.
In 1915, in partnership with Vincent Cooke, he went into his own business – the F.E. Partridge Rubber Company, producing various rubber articles including druggist sundries, and automotive inner tubes and tire accessories. In late 1916, shortly after its incorporation, the Board of Directors of the company voted to move the factory from Montreal to Guelph, initially intending to share facilities on Metcalfe Street. Products in its Guelph facility included:
- Hot water bottles
- Tobacco pouches
Despite a war that the Industrial Banner says “upset manufacturing conditions,” the company expanded its physical facilities. By September 1916, Partridge Rubber had taken over Standard Rubber. However, the company did more than borrow from other companies. In 1917, the company showed its desire to innovate coming up with a patent for a “non-skid” tire.
F.E. Partridge also pushed for certain concessions from the city in March 1919 to expand the company’s product line. According to Footwear in Canada, the company was hoping to “erect a rubber footwear factory … which [would] employ 500 people.” Among the hotly contested items were tax exemption and loan of $50,000 loan for 15 years.
The FE Partridge Rubber Company did survive World War I with its rubber shortages, carrying on into the 1920s. In April 1920, the workers went out on strike. The 50-60 workers were asking for an increase in the wages for piece work. All were members of the local Rubber Workers Union. The strike lasted into May with support from John A. Flett of the American Federation of Labour (AFL). He tried to work with management and workers to reach a solution, but Mr. Partridge refused to have a meeting. The Labour Gazette noted in a rather obtuse manner for July that “Information received indicates conditions no longer affected.”
The 1920s also saw an increase in the accident rate of the company. From 1920 to 1923 inclusive, at least 4 accidents took place in the plant. Milling machinery claimed 3 fingers. The most serious accident took place on May 19, 1922. It affected 4 workers. Two, T. Carto and J. H. Hogg were seriously scaled by the steam from a vulcanizing vat. Two other workers were “slightly scalded” but did not require hospitalization.
Despite safety concerns and a bitter strike, the company continued to produce rubber products. Unfortunately, with such a promising start in 1916, Partridge Rubber did not last into the 1930s. The company went into liquidation in February 1927. It had closed its doors for good by the end of that year.
This was not the end of rubber product manufacturers in the city. Although the production of tires ceased, the use of both natural and synthetic rubber continued to provide the basic material for the products of other manufacturers. Sterling Rubber produced what Automotive News in 1927 called “mechanical goods.” Northern Rubber, with the CEO of Partridge Rubber listed as President in 1919, was to start production of rubber boots in the 1920s. This company was to remain productive during the 1930s before it was taken over by Dominion Rubber.