A Brief History of the Smithers Rubber Testing Lab in Akron, Ohio

A Brief History of the Smithers Rubber Testing Lab in Akron, Ohio

Pictured above: Robert G. Dunlop (purchased Smithers in 1955), Vernon L. Smithers (founded Smithers in 1925), and Herman K. Hochschwender (merged his company, Hochschwender & Associates, with Smithers in 1972)

The Smithers rubber testing laboratory in Akron, Ohio has a long history of providing chemical and physical testing services to clients from many different industries. While the lab got its roots in tires, the rubber testing team has worked with a wide variety of products and raw materials. Read on for a brief history of how the rubber testing lab got its start and grew over the years.
  • When Smithers was created in 1925, it was one man and roughly $500 worth of tools and rubber testing equipment in a three-bay garage in Akron, Ohio.
  • Thanks to its origins in the tire industry, Smithers has nearly 100 years of tire expertise, but the rubber testing laboratory has analyzed a huge range of products over the years. The lab was analyzing hoses of all kinds - garden, air, automotive, fire, and more - as early as 1929 and has since worked with motor mounts, conveyor belts, hot water bottles, catheters, flooring, latex gloves, and countless other rubber-based products and materials.
  • In 1939, Smithers took on one of the most ambitious projects of its early years. The rubber testing laboratory analyzed four tons of smoked sheets of natural rubber. Thirty-three bales, each weighing about 225 pounds, were carefully checked in the chemical lab for percentages of ash, copper, manganese, acetone, and extract. The mill room mixed 371 separate batches for this project, which lasted for 18 months.
  • Smithers moved its rubber testing laboratory to its present-day location on Market Street in Akron in 1963. At that time, there were about 25 engineers, scientists, technical, and administrative team members.
  • A marketing booklet from the 1960s included this excerpt about the rubber testing lab’s custom mixing services: “When a raw material is being tested for use in rubber compounds, its compounding characteristics are observed after milling. Macroscopic or microscopic examination is made to determine how readily the materials are dispersed, how readily they are broken up into ultimate participles by the milling operation. Photomicrographs are often included in the report.” These days, the Smithers compounding team uses scanning electron microscopy and ImageJ software to analyze dispersion.
  • The United States experienced a wave of consumer protection activism in the 1970s that led to increased demand for fire resistance in a wide range of consumer and industrial products. Smithers installed two furnaces in its rubber testing lab to accommodate increased need for flammability testing and help clients develop safer products.
  • Smithers President and CEO, Mike Hochschwender, did a stint in the rubber testing lab at the age of 12, his very first Smithers role. He spent four weeks of his summer vacation taking tags off of cut tire sections and still vividly remembers the time-consuming process of scrubbing carbon black off his hands at the end of each day. 
Nearly 100 years after Smithers was created, we are continuing to invest in new and upgraded testing capabilities and develop new methods to ensure accurate data and excellent service for our clients. Read about our latest developments: To learn more about our rubber testing capabilities, get in touch with Jeremy Elliott at 330-762-7441 or jelliott@smithers.com or Adam Hubbell at 330-762-7441 or ahubbell@smithers.com.

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