The modest beginning of the Eagle Rubber Company started in a small garage within blocks of the present main plant location. In the beginning there were a handful of employees turning out thousands of rubber toy balloons using machinery and manufacturing techniques that would seem crude by today’s technological standards.
On May 27, 1913, Eagle Rubber Company was incorporated by Harry Gill, Sr. and Harry Polley. Early profits were retained in the business and in 1921 the first Eagle building was constructed – a three story structure on its present site with 18,000 square feet. In 1923 rubber equipment was added and a new line of rubber playballs and sponge rubber balls were introduced to the market.
Eagle Rubber Co., Inc. was purchased in 1939 by Kenton R. Cravens and John Sweeney. By 1940, Eagle employees were producing balloons and balls in a plant that had grown to a total of three buildings with over 60,000 square feet of production and office space. With the advent of World War II, Eagle Rubber Co., Inc. converted from a toy manufacturer to production of military equipment. Eagle produced inflated life belts, Mae West jackets, inflated landing boats, food bags, delousing bags, instrument cases and ponchos. On September 24, 1943 Erie Railroad had a disastrous train wreck. Almost a million gallons of gasoline were spilled from overturned and ruptured tank cars. The resulting fire completely gutted the main Eagle factory. Eagle employees had such an outstanding record of production and quality during the war effort, on October 12 1945, Eagle was awarded the coveted Army-Navy “E” Award for Excellence in war production. This award was one of only 4,000 awards given for the war effort. Eagle was the only firm in Ashland County to receive the Army-Navy “E”.
Eagle re-entered the toy market in the fall of 1945 and began work on developing vinyl processes as new vinyl materials were less costly than rubber. In 1951 Dick Long was named president. By this time Bob Tipton, Bob Castor and Len Rauth were in the early years of long distinguished careers with Eagle.
Kent Sporting Goods was formed as a subsidiary of Eagle Rubber Co., Inc. in 1957, as Eagle acquired Tucker-Brame, a manufacturer of football sets, gear, helmets and uniforms, in Batesville, Mississippi. In 1959 the company was moved to a bowling alley in New London. Kent then acquired Ben-Sun Products Company of Philadelphia, a marine flotation manufacturer, producing coast guard approved life vests, boat cushions and ski belts. In 1961 football and marine production was moved into a plant in downtown New London. A warehouse in Wellington was purchased in 1963. In 1969, golf bag production was moved into a newly purchased plant on the southern edge of New London. Bowling bag production also started in the newly purchased facility.
Brown Group of St. Louis, Missouri purchased Eagle Rubber Co., Inc. and its subsidiary, Kent Sporting Goods in June, 1971. Dick Long retired as president and was replaced by the executive vice president and controller, Len Rauth. Bob Tipton was promoted to executive vice president and Bob Castor was promoted to vice president of sales and marketing. Brown Group provided a needed injection of funds. In 1972 a $2 million modern, computerized warehouse was completed. Len Rauth retired in November 1973 and Bob Archer became president. Roland Kolman was appointed vice president of sales and marketing for Kent Sporting Goods in September of 1974. Also in that month, Eagle started another subsidiary, Vittert Sports in St. Louis, Missouri. Vittert was formed to sell racquetballs, racquets, platform tennis balls and paddles to these two new rapidly growing sports markets.
At this point in time, 1976, Eagle is thriving. Eagle has progressed and modernized its facilities over the years with the addition of mechanized and automated equipment. Miles of conveyor belts and material handing devices made Eagle a very efficient plant. As product costs reduced, sales increased and subsequently more jobs had become available in the Ashland community. In 1976 Eagle had 500 Ashland citizens on it’s payroll, and a steady flow of money injected into the community.
Eagle was pleased to have been a partner in progress with Ashland for so many years.
And now, nearly 100 years from its founding, what is now Hedstrom, continues to thrive in Ashland, OH. Hedstrom truly has a proud past… and an exciting future.