In 1856, English emigrant Henry G. Tyer established the Tyer Rubber Company and over the next 100 years or so, produced a vast array of products ranging from rubber cement and shoes, to larger products like gas masks and automobile tires. In the process, the Tyer family left a lasting legacy - which still serves Andover today.
Born near London, England in 1812, Henry moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey as a young man and got involved in the rubber business that was still in its infancy. Tyer took out several patents that endured well into the 20th century. He was one of the first to experiment with zinc oxide as an additive, which allowed for the manufacture of a durable white rubber. This new rubber was recognized as having great value in the production of medical sundries like rubber stoppers at the top of syringes. His next contrivance would allow for the huge expansion of his company.
Tyer patented his invention for rubber shoes, called "Compos," and established his first site in Ballardvale. Two years later he moved to North Main Street. Today, the Andover Public Safety Center occupies the site. Over the next few years, Tyer began to manufacture many different rubber products. By the end of the 19th century, the Main Street facility's 150 employees were churning out hot water bottles, crutch tips, nipples and bulbs, mainly for the pharmaceutical industry. The shoe business remained at the forefront though.
Henry Tyer died in 1880 and in 1882, his son Horace became president of the company. Under the direction of the younger Tyer, the company expanded both its inventory and manufacturing capabilities. Built in 1912, a new site on Railroad Street began to produce tires for the infant automotive industry. It would do so until the mid-1920s, when it switched to other products. During World War I, the company made gas masks for Allied troops in Europe. During both World War II and the Korean War, the company made a vast array of products from rubber boats to raincoats and of course, footwear.
By the mid-1950s, the company employed over 1100 workers and had annual sales of 7 million dollars. Then, things began to change at Tyer. During the baby-boom years of the 1950s and 60s, the company went back to the manufacturing of shoes, this time under new ownership. Converse Rubber purchased the company in 1961 and concentrated on its famous canvass footwear. For a while, they were also the exclusive manufacturer of hockey pucks for the NHL. Over the next several years though, both North Main Street facilities were closed and razed to make room for new town buildings. Times were changing not only in New England, but in many parts of the U.S.
Not unlike many companies in the region, Converse began to cut its costs and ceased operation of manufacturing shoes on Railroad Street in 1977. In 1978, a group of former employees bought the facility from Converse and produced rubber rolls in bulk. But, just a few short years later, they sold first the building to the Corcoran Company, then later the business to a company in England, who in turn moved their manufacturing to New Hampshire. Ironically, a company that was started by an English immigrant was sold back to the English.
With its large smoke stack still reaching skyward, the site has been turned into affordable housing units, remaining a lasting legacy to a once proud - and nationally known - company.
"Andover Stories" is a weekly column about interesting local people and events, told in anticipation of the Andover Historical Society's 100 anniversary in 2011.