North Omaha was built on industrial growth. As new factories opened, workers and managers needed houses and the community in-filled for more than a century this way. A large concentration of industrial factories was once located around the Belt Line Railway near the 30th and Ames Historical Commercial District, and one of them made tires. This is a history of the Overland Tire and Rubber Company.
Backdrop for a Behemoth
Cars became popular across the United States in the 1920s. As more cars hit the roads, more services were needed. By this time North Omaha was filled in with a lot of houses, a lot of residents, and an increasing amount of cars. Gas stations, parking garages, service stations, car dealers, and many other retail establishments sprang up around the community. However, some entrepreneurs saw revenue opportunities in making wholesale businesses happen.
Originally headquartered in the old Woodmen of the World building, the Overland Tire and Rubber Company was founded in 1916. In 1916, the president of the company was James H. Davies; William R. Blowers was vice president and general manager; and Harry Hildreth was the secretary and treasurer. Blower claimed 27 years of experience in the rubber industry, including as the general manager of the Belting and Packing Company, the superintendent of the United Globe Rubber Company, and the general superintendent of the Dunlop Tire and Rubber Company, where he built a factory that supplied the United States and Canada for decades.
Overland planned on serving customers throughout 20 western states, including Nebraska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. Because of Omaha’s central location and the 11 railroads serving the state, the company assured its investors of their inevitable success. “Do you grasp the immensity of this business?” they implored in an announcement to investors.
In 1919, the Willys Overland Company, eventual maker of the Jeep, sued the Overland Tire and Rubber Company for confusing their customers by using their name in a similar industry. After winning an injunction against the Omaha company and them filing a countersuit, a higher court found in favor of the Willys Company again in 1921.
For two years they scouted Omaha for a site to build a massive new factory on, and eventually they found it north of the Bedford Place neighborhood.
Making a Home
In May 1918, the Overland Tire and Rubber Company bought five acres at North 30th and Taylor Streets to build a massive new factory. Taking an option on another 12 acres to the south, the company envisioned taking the entire area from Sprague north to Boyd, from North 30th to North 31st Street. Architect Oscar Weigand designed the plant to be 58,600 square feet across 7.5 acres. Advertised as “an all daylight structure,” it had more than 3,000 windows. The address was 4310 North 30th Street; it was also referred to as 3015 Taylor Street.
The site was along the Belt Line Railway, an industrial shipping line that belonged to the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The neighborhoods in this region of North Omaha were packed with potential factory workers, too, and the area was served by three nearby streetcar lines to get them to work. It was an exciting time for this area between Bedford Place and 30th and Ames along the Belt Line Railway. Between 1918 and 1919, there were six other new industrial factories opened here, including United States Carbertator, Ruhlman Washer Company, Wiens-Omaha Brush Company, Haarmann Pickle Company, the Douglas Motors Company, and the Nebraska Tire Company. These nearby factories planned on success with this North O formula and Overland knew they could too.
Advertised as “the largest factory of this kind west of Akron, Ohio,” the company planned to produce up to 2,000 inner tubes daily, as well as “a complete line of rubber goods, such as rubber belting for machinery, rubber hose of all kinds, moulded, mechanical, and surgical rubber goods.”
The company immediately proceeded with planning their plant, but almost immediately hit snags. For the first time, the City of Omaha wanted the company to pay for vacating Boyd Street. Boyd, which ran along the Belt Line, was superfluous to the company’s plans and they wanted the land it took up. The City demanded a fee, and Overland paid it.
Before construction began though, the company was hit with an injunction to stop activities by an investor who was determined that the entire operation was a sham, and that the company leadership was simply taking in money without intention to build a factory, make tires, or otherwise proceed with the business. Organized with $1,500,000 in stock, the company initially sold $750,000 worth. Within a month of the injunction, the company held a special meeting with more than 100 investors to ensure faith in the company. The group condemned the lawsuit and was reassured of the founders’ intentions. After the meeting they toured the site where construction would happen, and saw three railroad cars filled with heavy machinery waiting to be installed. Construction was happening, and according to the Omaha World-Herald, everyone went away satisfied.
By December 1918, the Vaughn Construction Company was starting the first building in the Overland factory complex. A fireproof structure, it was 24,000 square feet on two floors, and was built to carry four floors for eventual expansion. The foundation was completed by the middle of January 1919. Initially covering three blocks, the machinery purchases for the factory were completed in January 1919. With $300,000 spent for the building and machinery, supplies were building up for the finished factory. In March 1919, the company took out a full-page ad in the World-Herald to blame delays in construction on the federal War Board, and implored the construction company to hurry with construction.
The factory produced its first tire on December 11, 1919.
“The Rubber Capitol of the West”
The Omaha stock market was alight with Overland stocks for the next several years. In 1920, an ad ran regularly that said, “The best buy in Omaha today is Overland Tire and Rubber Company stock. We have the right price and surely it is one of the best industrial investments in Omaha.
In May 1920 an article said, “The company employs 100 persons and the daily output is from 200 to 300 tires and fro. Outside of this territory m 500 to 600 inner tubes. Business in Nebraska and Iowa is carried on through distributors it is strictly wholesale.” That same month the first full carload of Overland tires was shipped to Oklahoma. Fabric tires, non-skid and rib-treaded tires were sent, and there was a similar load prepared for Dallas. Within Nebraska and Iowa, tires were sold retail through distributors; in the rest of the region, tires were shipped wholesale.
Speaking to the Omaha Kiwanis, the general manager of Overland F.C. Russell gave a talk called, “Omaha, the Rubber Capitol of the West.” The company continued growing, and in 1921 a company official was quoted as saying, “We have the greatest amount of optimism for the future,” and bragged of “placing car load lots of our products as far west as the Pacific coast, the north and south.” In late 1921, the factory added a second shift as sales grew. Output increased to 2,000 tires daily with shipments growing to Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Denver, Kansas City, Dallas and Oklahoma City.
Teaming up with two other related businesses, in August 1921 Overland co-sponsored “Omaha-Made Tire Week.” The companies, which also included Sprague Tire and Rubber Company and the Nebraska Tire and Rubber Company, invited the public to tour their plants and meet with representatives throughout. In July of that year, Mayor Jim Dahlman designated August 6 to 13 as Omaha-Made Tire Week, and the Omaha Chamber of Commerce planned speakers for the events. Combined, the three companies reported employing 550 workers in the previous year with $600,000 in annual payrolls and $40,000 in annual taxes.
Throughout the 1920s, the company expanded and grew significantly. With their workforce increasing, the employees showed more athletic talents too, and soon the “Overlands” or the “Tires” were rolling in amateur baseball, bowling and more. The Overland baseball team was so good that in the late 1920s they became semi-pro and traveling the Midwest extensively to play teams throughout the region. The winningest team in the city for a long time, the Overlands were dominant in the region for several seasons.
The company reported increasing its output in June 1924, making an average of 1,400 tires daily and 500 inner tubes a day, and bragged of being “one of the few factories in the United States running full time. Between 250 and 275 workers earned $5,000 annually there, and products were sold in Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois, Texas, Kansas, California, Washington and Oregon.” That year, the company paid off their final $100,000 in bonds. Claiming to have sold $2,000,000 in tires in 1925 with a net profit of $110,000, the company was excited to grow into the next year.
A year later, the company’s retail and wholesale distribution point was south of Dodge Street. That year in 1926, the company president reported selling as many tires retail in two months as in the previous two years. The Overland Trail Tire Company’s Pioneer Cord tire was a hit, and customers were buying it rampantly. A manager was quoted as saying, “The demand for Pioneer cords is very pleasing to his concern and convincing proof as to the quality and service of these tires.”
In April 1926 the president of Overland, George M. Tunison, effectively bought the then-defunct Sprague Tire and Rubber Company, including its factory at North 17th and Izard Streets. A court-ordered action, he spent about $90,000 to acquire the company. The newspaper anticipated he would pour Overland’s resources into expanding into Sprague’s former business. By June the plant was operating at full capacity under the new name Crown Rubber Company. It produced 1,200 tires daily when it re-opened; with new equipment coming, leaders expected it to put out 2,000 within months. This operation made Omaha the largest producer of rubber goods outside of Akron, Ohio, where the vast majority of the country’s production was done.
In late 1926, the company claimed to have a 500% increase in year-over-year sales.
Around 1923, George M. Tunison took over the presidency of the company from James H. Davies. Tunison resigned the role in 1927, vowing to focus on his law practice and staying on with the company as their lawyer. That year, Frank J. Grace took over the role. The Crown Rubber Company got a new president in 1927 too, C.A. Hammond-Knolton.
Contentiously Flying High
Later that year the company became groundbreaking when they made their first tire delivery to Shenandoah, Iowa, via airplane. The president of the company said, “…We are building up a substantial business in all parts of the country and can keep Pilot Kirk busy all of the time.”
A lot of the troubles of the Overland Trail Rubber Company were tied with the involvement of Frank Grace’s family in the business. His father, Jack M. Grace, set up the Overland Trail Tires Sales Company as an independent third party to sell tires. Other family members were involved in key positions of Overland, too. Stockholders thought Jackson Grace was getting discounts on wholesale prices, ensuring the Grace family’s profits while neglecting the company’s profits. Aside from this, the Graces were spending an inordinate amount of money on airplanes. Aside from simply advertising for the company or delivering tires, the planes were used in expensive races and apparently for the Grace’s entertainment.
An article in the Omaha World-Herald in March 1928 affirmed Frank Grace’s leadership of the Pioneer Trail Rubber Company in Omaha, and said the company was established in 1918.
In May 1928, the company claimed a “tremendous payroll increase” with 250 factory and office employees and $20,000 a month in payroll. They claimed to do “a nationwide business and has an output today of 1,150 tires and 1,300 tubes…” Later that year though, a local farmer with several hundred shares asked a judge for receivership of the corporation. Alleging misspending by the company’s leadership—including the airplanes the company bought—the farmer had a minority group of stockholders with him. Contending that the charges were “libelous and without foundation,” the company retained two law firms to fight them. At the end of the year, the farmer withdrew his lawsuit two days before trial without stating a reason.
In September 1928, Frank Grace and his wife were to have flown in a transcontinental air race from New York in a plane owned by the Overland Trail Tire Company. However, presumably because of pressure from the company and other forces, they bowed out. In November 1928 though, Frank Grace was a guest speaker at a dinner of the Omaha chapter of the National Aeronautic Association. He discussed whether the early Municipal Airport at Carter Lake met the needs of both day and night flying.
The company reported only employing 100 men in December 1928. However, an early 1929 deal ratcheted up the production lines again and 250 workers were quickly employed to make tires for Henry Field, a sales company that sold items over the radio and delivered them via their own fleet of trucks. The tire used special molds and was called The Shenandoah.
The company reported there would be $3,000,000 in sales between the three rubber companies in Omaha—Overland, Nebraska Tire and Rubber Company, and the Crown Rubber Company in 1929. Claiming to have sold 382,425 tires and tubes the previous year on their own, Overland sounded optimistic in the January news report.
In February 1929, the company was hit with another lawsuit proposing receivership because of accusations of “wrongfully expended” money in Overland Trail. A minor stockholder claiming to represent “all other stockholders” alleged that the company’s president was misspending money to benefit his relatives. The trial began in March, and immediately president Frank Grace rebutted the accusations. He explained how rival factions of investors had been trying to undermine company leadership since its establishment, and explained that charges of nepotism and misappropriations were incorrect. Presenting receipts and sharing comparisons, the trial revealed a net loss of about $8,000 between 1927 and 1928. A revelation from the trial was that the company lost 75% of its business at the end of 1926, when their account with the Montgomery-Ward Company ended. That year their revenues were almost $3,000,000. Continuing, the defense cross-examined Samuel J. Howell, the stockholder who brought the suit. A stenographer who secretly took notes on a conversation between Howell and Grace in January 1929 reported that he’d said, “I want to get in on some of this rakeoff that the Graces are getting out of the tire business, or I’ll wreck the company.” Howell testified that he never said such a thing, and denied trying to “wreck the company.” In early March the district judge ruled that “no evidence had been submitted to prove the company insolvent.” At the end of the trial, president Grace said “he believed the troubles of the company were over and that operation would now be on a more stable basis.” Claiming to be increasing production by 40% in the next two weeks, he said there were $100,000 in orders waiting to be filled. “The affairs of the company are in the best shape they have ever been.”
Two months later in April 1929, a “friendly suit” agreed to by many of the company’s stockholders including the largest stockholder assigned receivership to the Overland Trail Rubber Company. All nine of the company’s directors and attorneys agreed to Overland’s president Grace serving as the temporary receiver. This action was “for the purpose of placing the company out of the reach of certain stockholders who are accused of seeking control by fanning factional strife.”
Receivership went back to the courts in May 1929, where the district judge agreed to “name a man entirely disinterested, and one who has no previous receivership suits brought against the Overland company.” He ordered an immediate audit. During this trial, company directors testified their faith in president Grace. In June, Grace and his co-receiver, Jesse D. Cranny, asked the courts to allow the plant to be leased to the Pioneer Tire Company, and he resigned as the company president and as a co-receiver for Overland. Cranny then paid off all outstanding stockholders. In August, a lawsuit representing the nearly 2,500 stockholders of the company asked a judge for foreclosure against Overland because the company hadn’t paid land taxes on its property and failing to pay interest on bonds.
Frank J. Grace was listed as the president of the Pioneer Aircraft Company in May 1929. Living at 6234 Florence Boulevard, Mr. Grace and his wife continued their flying endeavors. Their son, Tom Grace, made the news that November for earning his pilot’s license at a young age.
In October 1929, the Overland Trail Rubber Company was foreclosed on by a district judge in Omaha “in favor of the owners of $150,000 worth of bonds.” It was done.
Remnants of a Big Company
The Pioneer Tire Company falls off the public record after 1930.
In 1934, the plant was sold to the Philadelphia Leather Company. However, the buyer didn’t revive the plant because “we discovered that because there is no navigable waterway to Omaha, the cost of manufacture here would be prohibitive…” A Boston company bought all of the tire-making equipment then.
The building was leased for a year and called The Building and Merchandise Company in 1935. This innovative approach, way ahead of its time, was to bring construction supplies from various dealers for “lumber, paint, roofing, oil burners, lighting fixtures, air-conditioning equipment, lath and plaster, ready-mix concrete, stucco, furniture and fixtures, paint and wallpaper,” and general contracting services. Their customers were “builders, contractors, or individual property owners.” The store sought to “make possible the merchandising of building materials with the same efficiency as department stores and other retailers handle their wares…” On their opening weekend in April 1935, the business claimed 40,000 visitors. They gave away a car, model airplanes and dolls and other gifts. A full-sized house was built in the store to feature products and innovations.
The Iten-Barmettler Biscuit Company started building a brand-new factory across the street in 1935. Called the U.S. Mills Building, it still stands today.
The Building and Merchandise Company changed its name to “The Country Store” in December 1935. It was too far ahead of its time though, and folded after a year.
In 1936, the Independent Biscuit Company started leasing the building. Appraised at $50,000, they bought it outright in 1941. Producing almost 2,500,000 pounds of cookies and crackers in 1940, the company had modern ovens, including one of the largest in the Midwest. The company was an independent Nebraska corporation led by A.D. Speir. The biscuit company was closed in the early 1950s, and in 1952 the Tumpane Company tried expanding from its Offutt Base headquarter and moved into the building. However, the machine rebuilding company was ill-advised and moved back out of the facility the same year.
In 1955, the Omaha Body and Equipment Company, or OBECO, bought the plant. Doubling its original manufacturing space, the company moved there from South Omaha. Receiving a permit for an $82,000 expansion to the plant, they added 20,000 square feet. The company expanded into international markets for making truck beds and more. They stayed there until 1978.
A 1981 advertisement for the building and its site said, “Manufacturing building for sale or lease. Ideal location at 30th and Taylor. 3 blocks from new Interstate Hwy. System. Over 108,000 sq. ft. of building with approximately 4 acres of land. Railroad siding, large covered loading dock. 4800 sq. ft. of A/C offices. Solid building in good condition. Priced for immediate sale at $550,000…”
The plant sat empty for almost two decades from 1978 to 1995. The Omaha City Council declared the property “blighted and substandard” in 1992.
Starting plans for its development in 1995, the World-Herald wrote, “The proposal amounts to a $1.8 million development of a 4.1 – acre site that contains a vacant industrial building and small parking lot.”
Opened by the Overland Rubber and Tire Company in 1919, the plant at North 30th and Taylor Streets was demolished 77 years later in 1996.
In 1997 the Omaha Police Department opened its northeast precinct on the site, along with a new Metropolitan Area Transit Transit Station. The new police facility was planned to “house precinct administration, operation, support and prevention functions;” the bus station would serve as a transfer point with weather-friendly rider options.
The Pioneer Aviation Company, dba Pioneer Airways, Pioneer School of Aeronautics, and Pioneer Aircraft Company [note: this is different from the Pioneer Airlines of the 1940s-1980s], announced plans to build a hangar at the Municipal Airport in November 1929 with the intention of opening a chain of flying schools “in the Omaha territory.” The school in Omaha had 30 students at that time, and additionally the company was conducting an “aerial taxi business.” Advocating for airport growth for the next year, that company apparently didn’t… take off.
Today, there’s no sign the Overland Tire and Rubber Company at North 30th and Taylor Streets ever existed.
You Might Like…
MY ARTICLES ABOUT THE BELT LINE RAILWAY IN NORTH OMAHA
Businesses:4402 Florence Blvd | 4426 Florence Blvd | 4225 Florence Blvd | Omaha Casket Company | U.S. Brush Company | Murphy, Wasey and Company Factory | Iten-Barmettler Biscuit Company | Uncle Sam Breakfast Food Company | Storz Brewery | Douglas Motors Corporation
Neighborhoods: Nicholas Street Historic District | Squatter’s Row | Near North Side | North Omaha Bottoms | Sulphur Springs | Saratoga | Bedford Place | Plum Nelly | Clifton Hill | Orchard Hill | Walnut Hill | Military Avenue
Related: Railroads | 30th and Ames | 16th and Locust | 40th and Hamilton