by Charlotte Gintert
Paul W. Litchfield is one of the superstars of Akron’s tire history. Originally from Boston, he moved to Akron in 1900 to fill the superintendent position at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, beginning a 56-year career there. Litchfield is remembered for many contributions to Goodyear’s success in the industry, including creating an aeronautics division. That’s right, Akronites — we have our beloved blimps thanks to Litchfield.
One of his most important contributions to the rubber industry, was the founding of Goodyear Corporate Research in 1908. In fact, if you’re looking for Litchfield, that’s where you’ll find him: At the corner of Goodyear Boulevard and Kelly Avenue, in bronze statue form.
The Goodyear Corporate Research building is located at 142 Goodyear Blvd. Originally, the research “division” was located in a small brick structure further to the west, but World War II created new challenges that the old laboratory space could no longer meet. During the war, supplies of natural rubber from Asia were not accessible, so it became necessary to develop alternatives. By then, Litchfield was Goodyear’s president. He determined that the solution to this problem was creating a state-of-the-art facility for rubber research.
The Goodyear Corporate Research building was opened to occupancy on April 6, 1943, one day after a tornado passed through town and blew out several windows. It cost $1.3 million dollars to build and housed 250 chemists, engineers, physicists and technicians. Goodyear’s was the first dedicated research building in the rubber industry. During the opening ceremony, Litchfield said, “We have come far in this world — far enough to know there are great other worlds of knowledge yet to explore. We have only begun to learn. The best is yet to come.”
He was right.
Goodyear did help to solve the synthetic rubber problem, with research led by Paul Flory, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1974. The division has been granted thousands of patents, and new breakthroughs in polymer and rubber development happen every decade. Most recently, Goodyear Corporate Research made headlines with zero gravity silica testing on the International Space Station.
All these breakthroughs have taken place in an unassuming building down the street from the bustling East End district, which includes Goodyear’s original headquarters and Goodyear Hall. The research building was built the way a laboratory should be: Solid and functional. A closer look, however, reveals that medallions inscribed with strange symbols line the upper courses of the building. These are alchemical symbols, including images that represent iron, earth, fire, copper and air.
A large clock sits above the front entrance, a “modern” 1940’s take on the company’s other clocktowers. During the 1990s, Goodyear added an expansion that doubled the size of the building, ensuring that the building could continue to serve its vital function.
The Goodyear Corporate Research building was declared a National Historic Chemical Landmark for its significance in synthetic rubber development. While the majority of Goodyear operations have moved to Innovation Way, much of the company’s innovating still takes place where it always has for the last 77 years.
According to Chris Helsel, Goodyear’s Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer, “We are proud to carry on the legacy of Paul W. Litchfield by continuing to conduct some of Goodyear’s most innovative scientific research & technology development within the walls of this historic building.”
Charlotte Gintert is an archaeologist and a photographer. Akron’s past is kinda her thing. You can check out her photos at www.capturedglimpses.com and follow her on Instagram at @capturedglimpses.
Photo: Charlotte Gintert