August 24 marks the day 83 years ago when the Cumberland Evening Times headlines read “Union Local Calls Strike At Tire Plant”. The strike at the Kelly-Springfield Tire plant was resolved a few days later when the company agreed to negotiate with the union.
This was a fairly minor hiccup in the success that the company enjoyed in its time in Cumberland MD. Allegany Museum houses the complete archive from the Springfield-Kelly company’s offices in Cumberland, including the company’s business documents; artifacts created by the company as part of commemorative and marketing campaigns; and most makes and models of tires created during the company’s operation.
The “Kelly-Springfield” tire was originally manufactured by the Rubber Tire Wheel Company. In 1894, Arthur W. Grant had perfected a method to form a tire which would not jump-off the rim, using internal wires. Demand was immediate, and Edwin S. Kelly financed the company.
Kelly also bought the Columbia Pneumatic Wagon Wheel Company when solid tires still ruled the market. By World War I, Kelly-Springfield was producing pneumatic tires, and by 1916, Kelly-Springfield had outgrown their older plants The company sought a location with low labor costs, yet close to the company’s primary markets in the eastern U.S.
53 cities in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey, competed for the plant. The Cumberland Chamber of Commerce formed the Cumberland Development Company, and combined with civic organizations, city government, the press, and interested citizenry to attract new companies, to raise money to entice companies to relocate to Cumberland, and to find suitable sites in Cumberland for industrial development.
The city offered an 80-acre site near the heart of downtown Cumberland valued at $123,690, In addition, the city laid water lines, built streets, sidewalks, fire connections, and sewers. The citizens of Cumberland voted for a $500,000 bond issue to finance the offer. After it was announced that a huge majority had passed the proposal, a parade of hundreds of automobiles tooting their horns formed an impromptu parade through the city as soon as the result became known.
On 4 November 1916, Kelly-Springfield signed a contract to move their manufacturing operations to Cumberland. The first tire was built on April 2, 1921, and the company eventually employed over 3,000 people.
After 66 years of operation, the Cumberland plant was closed in 1987. Changes in consumer preferences, labor relations, a slowdown of the economy, and the increasing operating cost of the plant’s aging buildings, equipment, and methods were the deciding factors.
The corporate offices were moved to a new facility on Willowbrook Road in Cumberland. The original plant site was returned to the city.
Visit the Kelly-Springfield exhibition at Allegany Museum 3 Pershing St Cumberland MD, Tuesday through Saturday 10 – 4, Sunday 1 – 4. Visit our website alleganymuseum.org, and our Facebook page.