Akron is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Summit County. The municipality is located in northeastern Ohio on the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland to the north and Canton to the south, approximately 60 miles (96 km) west of the Pennsylvania border.
Akron was founded in 1825 near the Ohio and Erie Canal, and became a manufacturing center owing to its location at a staircase of locks. The locks were needed due to the higher elevation of the area, which gave rise to the name Summit County as well as Akron, which is a rough translation of summit into Greek. After the decline of heavy manufacturing in the 1970s and ’80s, the city’s industry has since diversified into research, financial, and high tech sectors.
Akron and nearby Canton are often referred to as a single region or considered twin cities. The Akron-Canton Regional Airport is one of many places near the city that is named for both places. While the U.S. Census Bureau still counts the two metropolitan areas separately, if combined, the total population of the Akron-Canton area would equal 1,101,894 people.
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in Akron in 1935. The city is home to The University of Akron, the Akron Aeros Double A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, the Soap Box Derby World Championships and the Firestone Country Club, at which the PGA Tour’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational is played.
Much of Akron’s early growth was because of its location at the “summit” of the Ohio and Erie Canal (thus the name Summit County) which at one time connected Lake Erie and the Ohio River.
Akron started as a small village on the divide between the St. Lawrence River and the Mississippi River drainage basins. The village was a 43-block square with its main intersection at Exchange and Main Streets; its northern limit was one block beyond State Street. It was renamed South Akron when Cascade, an adjacent village north of State Street and centered at Market and Howard Streets, changed its name to North Akron.
South Akron was built to serve people using the Ohio Canal. North Akron developed around a construction project originally intended to provide increased water power for industries. In 1836 the villages joined. The completion of the Cross-cut Canal along Main Street in 1839 started Akron on its climb to industrial importance. Coal, a major railroad, and manufacturing growth from the Civil War contributed to a population increase from 3,500 to 10,000 inhabitants between 1860 and 1870.
Because of physical obstacles,the steep hill on West Market Street, the Little Cuyahoga Valley, and the swamp south of the City,Akron grew to the east. This encouraged the annexation of Spicertown, centered on Spicer and Exchange, and then Middlebury, which was centered where the Arlington and Market Street commercial area is now located.
The Rubber Capital of the World
Akrons history and the history of the rubber industry are intertwined. The rubber industry transformed Akron from a small canal town into a fledgling city. The birth of the rubber industry started in the 1800s, long before America fell in love with the automobile. Akron was incorporated as a village in 1835 and as a city in 1865. In 1869, B.F. Goodrich started the first rubber company in Akron. In 1915, the area increased from 7,254 acres to 16,120 acres.
The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company became America’s top tire manufacturer and Akron was granted the moniker of The Rubber Capital of the World. Goodyear’s president, F.A. Seiberling, had been building homes costing around $3,500 for employees in what would become known as Goodyear Heights. Likewise, Harvey Firestone began building employee homes in what would be called Firestone Park. These leaders were responding to the housing crunch caused by the boom in the rubber business.
Akron was, indeed, booming. For a time it was the fastest-growing city in the country, its population exploding from 69,000 in 1910 to 208,000 in 1920. People came for the jobs in the rubber factories from many places, including Europe. Of those 208,000, almost one-third were immigrants and their children. Among the factory workers in the early 1920s was a young Clark Gable.
In the 1950s and ’60s Akron saw a surge in industry as use of the automobile took off. But while America was still using bias-ply tires, Europe had already seen the wave of the future in radial tires. Radials had almost three times the tread life of bias-ply tires, and Akrons rubber mills were not equipped to handle the manufacturing requirements. As a result many companies tried to produce hybrid tires, which were troublesome at best. Firestone manufactured the ill-fated 500 series, which was recalled in the millions. B.F. Goodrich eventually replaced its old equipment with new machinery to enable the manufacturing of radial tires.
In the 1970s and ’80s the rubber industry experienced a major decline as a number of strikes and factory shutdowns delivered the final blows to the industry. In ten years the number of people working within the rubber industry was slashed in half. By the early ’90s Goodyear was the only remaining rubber manufacturer based in Akron.