Harvey S. Firestone, Jr. was the son of Harvey Firestone Sr. who founded The Firestone Tire & Rubber Company in 1900. Firestone Jr. significantly expanded the company’s global interests, including the establishment of rubber plantations around the world, particularly in Liberia.
Firestone Jr. was born in Columbiana, OH in 1898. He graduated from Asheville School in Asheville, NC. During the First World War, Firestone served in the Navy as an aviator. After the war he enrolled at Princeton University, where he graduated in 1920.
Harvey Firestone Jr.’s Princeton classmates voted him “the man most likely to succeed” — and he proved them right. In 1920, Firestone joined the company his father had founded. By 1926, he had been elected a director and vice president of the newly organized Firestone Plantations Company. He established dozens of rubber plantations around the world to supply the company with raw rubber.
In 1930, Firestone purchased roughly 10 percent of Liberia’s arable land – one million acres – to avoid paying taxes to grow rubber trees on land owned by the British Empire. After a League of Nations investigation into the labor practices of the Firestone Company in Liberia, Firestone, Jr. launched a PR campaign on the radio to explain the company’s work in Africa. In one broadcast he said, “To the little Republic of Liberia, Firestone has brought a new day of hope and advancement. It has been a gratifying thought to us that by means of commercial progress we have been of service to mankind.”
Firestone assumed the role of chief executive officer in 1946. At the time he took control of the company, it had 47 plants in 14 countries, and 23 plants in the U.S. By 1963, there were 41 plants in 23 countries, and 34 in the U.S.
Besides developing new sources for basic materials, Firestone made the company’s products more available at home by pioneering expansion into auto supply and service stores. In addition to carrying on his father’s work in the company, the younger Firestone was an important national leader in the campaign for better roads. In a 1953 broadcast on the Voice of Firestone radio and television program, Firestone called for improvements to highways and parking facilities, concluding: “America’s future progress depends on better and safer highways.”