It was hailed as a major accomplishment in 1917 for the Carlisle Chamber of Commerce.
Work behind the scenes paid off in the Sept. 13 announcement that a new factory was coming to the former Letort Carpet Mill site.
“The enterprise is backed by New York capitalists and has at the head of it a man who has been in the rubber business practically his entire life,” The Evening Sentinel reported on what became the Carlisle Tire and Rubber Co.
A century ago, Charles Moomy had a plan to employ a workforce of 60 to 75 men to manufacture bicycle inner tubes starting in early 1918.
Moomy was a former vice president and sales manager of the Keystone Rubber Manufacturing Co. of Erie. His family owned a factory that employed over 100 people and covered several acres in that northwest Pennsylvania city.
The Carlisle Chamber helped Moomy acquire the Letort building and offered him a second location for an additional plant to accommodate growth. The hope was that the new company could increase production and hire hundreds of workers to make it the largest manufacturer in town.
In announcing the enterprise, The Sentinel reported that machinery was being shipped to Carlisle and could arrive in a month. Once installed, production could begin by Jan. 1.
“On his recent visit to New York, Mr. Moomy secured his initial supply of crude rubber and other chemicals necessary so there would be no delay on that end,” the newspaper reported. “Sufficient orders to insure the running of the plant for at least the first eight months are on hand.”
As for the Chamber, it achieved one of its primary missions: “To build up Carlisle and to bring back a portion of the employees who have left it for other places.”
According to a company profile, the inner tubes were sold to Montgomery Ward and Co. Eventually the product line expanded into automobile inner tubes.
The company floundered during the stock market crash of 1929, and by the end of the 1930s, Moomy had turned over all of his common and preferred stock to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia to avoid bankruptcy.
An admiral’s insight
In 1943, the Pharis Tire and Rubber Co. purchased the Carlisle firm for $330,000. Fleet Adm. William Halsey of World War II Pacific fame was on the Pharis board of directors and was invited on June 26, 1947, to speak at a dinner hosted by the Carlisle Tire and Rubber Co. Then as now, the intentions of Russia were headline news, but Halsey saw reason for optimism.
“We are facing a serious condition but not so serious that we can’t understand it or solve it,” Halsey said. “Until this is settled, we must have an iron fist in a velvet hand. Someday there will be a common understanding between us on one side of the [Iron] Curtain and those on the other side.”
Described by The Sentinel as a beetle-browed naval hero, Halsey spoke of the worldwide conflict in ideologies, but believed that American democracy and ideals were the best and would eventually triumph.
“I don’t want to force our form of government and our ideals upon any other people, but I don’t want to see that government and those ideals torn down by other people,” said Halsey who, earlier that day, toured the tire plant in Carlisle and shook hands with all the workers.
The Pharis board of directors liquidated the company in 1949, distributing stock to Pharis stockholders and to the renamed Carlisle Corp. During the 1950s and ‘60s, Carlisle acquired a variety of other companies, including roofing materials, insulated wire and baby food jar sealant rings. By the late 1960s, it was producing aerospace and electronic products, recreational tires, automotive accessories and brake linings along with other products.
On Jan. 27, 1950, sports legend Jim Thorpe visited the local Tire and Rubber plant as part of a tour of Carlisle that also included a Rotary Club luncheon at the Molly Pitcher Hotel, a speech before Carlisle High School students at the Lamberton building and a dinner at Carlisle Barracks. Guided by Jonas Warrell, plant superintendent, Thorpe shook hands with several hundred employees and autographed a large number of souvenir baseballs.
One reason Thorpe visited Carlisle was to call upon local businessmen, civic leaders and service clubs to write the Warner Bros. studio in Hollywood and request that the movie “Jim Thorpe – All American” have its world premiere in Carlisle. The effort was successful and Thorpe returned to Carlisle to attend the event in August 1951.
Almost 36 years later, on Friday, Feb. 27, 1987, the Carlisle Tire and Rubber plant on North College Street officially stopped all domestic production of its bike tires and inner tubes. The product line that started the original company came to an end at 2:20 that afternoon when Elwood Detweiler pulled the last tire from the mold, The Sentinel reported.
Not only did it signal the death of an American industry, it ended a decadelong struggle between Tire and Rubber and its Far Eastern competitors.
“From 1973 to 1976 — the year Carlisle became the sole remaining domestic manufacturer — Taiwanese and Korean producers increased their share of the U.S. bicycle tire market from 25 to 68 percent,” The Sentinel reported. The battle gained traction in 1978, when Tire and Rubber filed an unfair trade complaint against Taiwanese manufacturers with the federal government. That attempt ultimately failed.
Company officials told The Sentinel in numerous interviews that the shutdown of domestic production was not the result of a bad product or inefficient operations, but production cost differences and unfair trade practices. During one tour through the Far East, Tire and Rubber president Jack Hollis visited plants where workers were paid as little as 25 cents an hour compared to the $9 rate at the College Street factory in 1987.
The 1987 shutdown of the bicycle tire and inner tube line resulted in a net loss of 350 jobs for the Carlisle area, according to The Sentinel. At that time, there were no further job cuts planned and Tire and Rubber employed about 500 workers in Carlisle producing industrial tires and tubes for products ranging from golf carts to airplanes.
The year before, in 1986, Carlisle Corp. was restructured into a holding company and renamed Carlisle Cos. Inc. On July 22, 2009, company officials announced the Carlisle Tire & Wheel plant on North College Street was going to close within 12 to 15 months, affecting about 340 employees.
Carlisle Cos. told its workers that it would consolidate the Carlisle plant with the former Bowdon, Ga., manufacturing plant and portions of its Chinese operations into a 568,000 square-foot facility in Jackson, Tenn.
The College Street plant has since been demolished and is a brownfield proposed for development. Carlisle Construction Materials, a division of the Carlisle Cos., continues to be headquartered in Carlisle.