Firestone Tire & Rubber Company

Firestone Tire and Rubber Company was founded in the United States by Harvey S. Firestone in 1900. It was one of the largest producers, purchasers and users of natural rubber. Besides producing tyres for almost every type of vehicle, the company also manufactured nearly 40,000 other products including metals, plastics, textiles and chemicals. In 1915, a small rubber purchasing office was set up in Singapore, following which a subsidiary was established on 1 October 1919. Firestone’s Singapore operations included purchasing, grading, processing, storing and shipping rubber to the United States. Southeast Asia supplied rubber to Firestone’s manufacturing plants in the United States and 25 other countries. As demand for rubber tyres and other rubber products increased throughout the world, rubber purchases and shipments from Firestone Singapore rose dramatically.1

Early days
In the early years, Firestone’s office in Singapore was housed in the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank Chambers building, while its rubber factory-cum-godown was located at the junction of Geylang Road and Kallang River. A main activity of Firestone in Singapore was the milling of imported Indonesian wet-slab rubber into blanket crepes. For residents in Katong, whose main access to the city was via Mountbatten Road and Geylang, the distinctive odour from the rubber slabs in the vicinity was a familiar smell.2

Firestone’s Singapore operations expanded considerably during the 1920s, with rubber-buying warehouses opened in large cities in Malaya, extending to Sumatra. The company also acquired land in Tanglin and built six houses for its staff. However, the rubber industry in Singapore was adversely affected by the Great Depression of 1929. It resulted in the closure of warehouses outside Singapore, with the exception of one in Melaka. In the 1930s, centralisation of rubber purchasing and processing in Singapore was made possible by improvements in the transportation system, communication links, shipping facilities and means of marketing.3

World War II and postwar years
The eruption of World War II brought Firestone’s Singapore operations to a standstill.4 Its facility did not ship any rubber between 1942 and late 1945.5 Several of its British staff were also interned during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942−45).6

Business began to pick up after the war. In 1945, Firestone’s properties in Singapore and Melaka were renovated and expanded. Business conditions returned to prewar times, although living conditions remained poor due to a shortage of consumer goods. In the 1950s, however, the Korean War created a huge demand for rubber. The period also saw increased sales of imported finished rubber products in the Malayan, Singapore and Borneo markets.7

By 1960, Firestone Malaya Limited, a sister company, was formed with its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur and a branch in Butterworth, Province Wellesley.8 In 1972, Firestone’s sales branch in Kuala Lumpur became part of the Singapore office.9

In late 1963, the Indonesia Confrontation (1963−66) led to a breakdown in trade relations between Indonesia and Singapore. This resulted in a shortage of raw materials and effectively terminated Firestone’s milling activities in Singapore. Consequently, several hundred workers were laid off.10

On 1 January 1990, the Singapore office of Japan’s Bridgestone Corporation merged with Firestone Singapore. This took place two years after Bridgestone’s US$2.6 billion purchase of the American Firestone in 1988. The acquisition made the Tokyo-based Bridgestone the world’s third largest tyre producer at the time. The new company in Singapore, Bridgestone/Firestone Singapore, was formed to buy natural rubber for its tyre-making affiliates in 18 countries.11 In February 1995, Bridgestone took full control of Bridgestone/Firestone Singapore, which then became Bridgestone Singapore.12

Kartini Saparudin

1. International Chamber of Commerce, Singapore, From Early Days (Singapore: International Chamber of Commerce, 1979), 195 (Call no. RSING 380.1065595957 SIN); Glenn A. Wood, ed., American Association of Singapore 50th Anniversary 1917−1967. (Singapore: American Association, 1967), 297. (Call no. RCLOS 369.25957 AME); “Our History,” Bridgestone Americas, Inc., n.d.  
2. Wood, American Association of Singapore 50th Anniversary, 297.
3. Wood, American Association of Singapore 50th Anniversary, 297.
4. Wood, American Association of Singapore 50th Anniversary, 297.
5. International Chamber of Commerce, Singapore, From Early Days, 195.
6. Wood, American Association of Singapore 50th Anniversary, 297–98.
7. Wood, American Association of Singapore 50th Anniversary, 297–98.
8. Wood, American Association of Singapore 50th Anniversary, 298.
9. International Chamber of Commerce, Singapore, From Early Days, 195.
10. Wood, American Association of Singapore 50th Anniversary, 298.
11. Lilian Ang, “Bridgestone Merges Local Office with Firestone Singapore,” Business Times, 24 January 1990, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Bridgestone Completes Procedures to Take Over Control of Bridgestone/Firestone Singapore Private Ltd,” Plastics and Rubber Weekly, 12 February 1995. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 

The information in this article is valid as of January 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Business enterprises
Rubber industry and trade--Singapore