Sometimes a long-term business relationship begins with a chance encounter. Like a buggy salesman delivering a set of pneumatic tires to a would-be automaker.
As the relationship grows, the top executives may vacation together. Like a luxury camping trip for millionaires.
Sometimes, their children or grandchildren meet, fall in love and marry. That's not part of the business arrangement, but it builds a warm, fuzzy compact on both sides.
So it has been with the Fords and the Firestones for more than 100 years. The link is being sorely tried by the recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires, many of them installed on Ford Rangers and Explorers.
HENRY NEEDED TIRES
Henry Ford and Harvey S. Firestone met in 1895. Ford was building his first car, and he needed some solid rubber tires to replace the too-flimsy bicycle tires he had been working with.
Firestone was a salesman for Columbia Buggy Works in Detroit. He urged Ford to try something new - pneumatic tires. Ford did, and a business and personal relationship was born.
Firestone started a tire company in 1900; Ford started an auto company in 1903. Ford later remembered that Firestone was 'the first tire manufacturer to seek an order from us, in 1906. He got the order for 2,000 sets of detachable tires.'
Both men and both companies prospered. Ford was working his way through a list of alphabet car names and struck gold when he reached the Model T in 1908. Firestone was growing with the auto industry.
In 1916, the friends began a series of camping trips, joined by naturalist John Burroughs and Thomas Alva Edison. They didn't exactly rough it.
In Firestone - A Legend, A Century, A Celebration, authors Paul Dickson and William D. Hickman noted that Presidents Harding and Coolidge joined them on parts of their journeys. So did Harvey S. Firestone Jr.
The authors said, 'They enjoyed the services of drivers and attendants to pitch their tents. They roughed it with the most modern conveniences, including battery-powered lighting arranged by Edison. Ford's personal chef prepared meals.
'The meals were served from a vehicle specially crafted by Ford. It had a kitchen and pantry, a large gasoline stove fed by the car's gas tank, an icebox and a rear panel that folded down into a table that seated 20. Travelers and guests were typically treated to a menu of broiled lamb chops, grilled ham, boiled potatoes, corn on the cob, hot biscuits, watermelon and coffee.'
In Ford - The Men and the Machine, biographer Robert Lacey noted that 'each man had his own 10-by-10 tent ... and when they emerged every morning for breakfast, each was immaculate in collar, tie and three-piece suit.'
Burroughs died in 1921. The campers did not convene in 1922, and 1924 was the last trip for Ford, Firestone and Edison. Ford said the excursions had begun to attract too much attention, and Firestone added, 'We became a kind of traveling circus.'
Harvey Firestone Sr. died in 1938, leaving the business in the hands of his five sons. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. sold tires to all automakers, especially to its first big customer, Ford Motor Co.
In 1947, the long affiliation became a family affair: William Clay Ford, son of Edsel and grandson of Henry, married Martha Parke Firestone, daughter of Harvey Jr.
Their son, William Clay Ford Jr., is chairman of Ford Motor Co. In a nice touch, he wrote the foreword to the Firestone centennial book mentioned above.