Decades of history told in exhibit of Goodrich advertising posters


Within the length of the large display case that fills a wall in Bierce Library is a time capsule — one that illustrates decades of a changing America through advertisements created to promote the products of the B.F. Goodrich Company.


Here in Akron, we know the company as one of the industrial giants that contributed to the city becoming known as “The Rubber Capital of the World.” At UA, we feel an even closer kinship. Buchtel College, as the school was first known, was founded in 1870. While the young college grew in those early years of the decade, so did a company newly founded by Benjamin Franklin Goodrich to make rubber products — Goodrich Tew and Co. By 1880, it was incorporated as the B.F. Goodrich Company.

What visitors will see in the yearlong exhibit — “The Art of Rubber: Advertising Posters from the B.F. Goodrich Collection, 1900-1945” — is a portion of the materials first donated to the University by the company in the mid-1980s. The collection includes company records — everything from annual reports and ledgers — to publications, news releases, photographs and films.


The B.F. Goodrich Company’s diverse line of products are illustrated in numerous print advertisements. First appearing just after the turn of the 20th century, the advertisements are filled with styles of bicycle, carriage and automobile tires. Soon after World War I, Goodrich posters promoted aircraft tires, de-icers and the long-running “Silvertown” tires.

Marie poster


Also in the exhibit are examples of a very different era in advertising as the 19th century became the 20th century. Many companies were influenced by the “Gibson Girl” illustrations of artist Charles Dana Gibson that epitomized “youthful features and ephemeral beauty.” A lithograph series of tire advertisements featuring “The Goodrich Girls” was created by artist Albert Lynch in that same style.

Considered a very important piece of its history, the artistic series was donated to UA in 1999 by the B.F. Goodrich Company. Of the 17 original posters in “The Goodrich Girls” series, there are 12 in the UA collection. The 12 will be rotated on a regular basis, two at a time. Prints of “Ruth” “Sally,” “Adele,” “Alice,” “Kate,” “Beatrice,” “Gwendolyn” and “Marie” were given to customers as Christmas gifts in the form of advertisements, calendars, handbills, catalogs, postcards and other materials promoting the company’s products.

Also on display is a sampling of the posters created by a B.F. Goodrich Company doing its part to help win World War II. “Defense needs Rubber – Save Your Tires” one bold red and white poster reads. Beyond words, the company developed synthetic rubber to help with the shortage of natural rubber, and manufactured military tires and other products for America and its allies. In addition, 12,000 Goodrich employees served in the armed forces.

Alice poster


“The historical content of the posters is very important, ranging as it does from the turn of the century through World War II,” notes S. Victor Fleischer, University Archivist and head of Archival Services. “We’ve had parts of the collection on display for long periods of time in the past, but light, heat and humidity can take a toll, so we rotate the materials in and out of the archives to preserve them.”

The exhibit can be found on Bierce Library’s lower level in a recessed display case that is not subject to direct sunlight.

“It is a high-traffic area, but everything is protected behind glass,” adds Fleischer. “I hope members of the University community, and the larger community, will come by to see it. I also think it has great value for our marketing, advertising and graphic design faculty and their students — to be able to see and study these advertisements of the past.”