March 23, 2015
When someone mentions Gates, many people immediately chime in with “Oh, Gates Rubber Company!” Although Gates was known by that moniker for decades, the company has been recognized as Gates Corporation since 2003. But how did Gates get its start?
In 1911, Charles Gates had a choice. He wanted to buy a business, and he had three options: toilet paper, soap, and tire covers. He chose tire covers, and on October 1, 1911 he and his new wife Hazel were the proud owners of The Colorado Tire and Leather Company.
Although they got off to a rough start consisting of little business and only one product, as the age of leather transitioned into the age of rubber the company found its stride and created the world’s first rubber and fabric V-belt in 1917, revolutionizing the auto industry. In addition, Gates’ Durable Tread (a steel studded band of leather that extended tire mileage) was replaced with the Half-Sole, a robust rubber alternative. In 1919 the company was renamed The Gates Rubber Company, a name that would remain for eight decades. At this point it had expanded multiple times and survived World War I, and went on to earn an impressive title in 1921: world’s largest manufacturer of V-belts. Half of the cars in Denver had Gates belts under the hood!
Gates made it through the Great Depression unscathed and by 1934 had annual sales of $13 million, employed 2,500 people, and was the nation’s sixth largest rubber company. They made over 4,000 items, or as Charles Gates liked to call them: “necessary accessories to essentials.” World War II brought with it a demand for rubber, and rubber shortages made it obvious that synthetic rubber was the only viable long-term solution. Gates teamed up with other companies to produce a synthetic rubber that turned out to be a huge success and helped America win the war. In fact, Gates was the first company to produce a completely synthetic rubber belt! Sales skyrocketed.
Gates became a multinational corporation in January 1954, when the Ontario plant opened its doors. This set off a chain of openings everywhere from Iowa to Mexico to North Carolina. 1962-1963 were the initial years of international expansion, with Gates South Africa and a belt and hose plant in Belgium being established during this time. The next plan of action for Gates was to produce radial tires, but the recession stalled this growth option. Money was tight and demand was low; something had to give. The tough decision came in 1974 when Charles Gates Jr., who had taken over for his father in 1961, made the choice to withdraw from the tire business.
It was the end of an era. But what came next? Stay tuned for Part 2.