The History Of The Whitewall
I did an article for the first issue of Hot Rod Deluxe (1999?) covering tires, sizes, and styles. It was a neat little piece with interviews from Roth, Barris, and a few other guys in the know. During the process of writing that article, I stumbled upon a neat sidebar that I never used – the history of the whitewall tire.
Like most of these historical studies, this one comes with a ton of hearsay created not only by the inevitable passing of time, but the marketing campaigns of the day as well. It seems like every vintage advertisement you see has a one liner about that company’s contribution to the history of tires. To be honest I have no idea how, when, or who created the first whitewall, but I did do my research on one of the earliest tire companies – Vogue Tyre.
Harry Hower was a car guy. He lived cars, he loved cars, he worked cars for a living… See, Harry was a chauffeur in the Chicago area starting around 1905. He got into the business simply because he loved cars and he loved driving them. The Vogue Tyre Company says it was during one of his drives that he decided that the big cars of the day needed something to set their tires off. He was confident that a whitewall would do the trick and took the idea to the Woodbury family and tire company. By 1918, the Woodbury’s and Harry were in business and the Vogue Tyre Company was born.
Up until 1926, Harry’s tires were only available in the Chicago area and only to chauffeur companies. However, as the great depression started to… well, depress… Harry decided he needed to diversify. Late in 1926, he added Dodson Limited in Los Angeles as a distributor. Hollywood actors and their Dusenbergs were soon matched up with Harry’s huge whitewalls and a trend was born. Business exploded. So much so, in fact, that Vogue had to make arrangements to have their tires produced some place other than their little tire factory in Chicago. Kelly-Springfield took over the rubber duties and production was ramped up to a level more appropriate for national distribution.
Shortly after, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and all rubber production came a halt. Lloyd Dodson (owner of Dodson Limited) saw this as an opportunity and made an offer on the company. Harry accepted and retired. Meanwhile, Lloyd was just getting started…
Lloyd was good buddies with a lot of guys in the Southern California custom scene and as buddies are prone to do, they hooked each other up. Guys like Harry Westergard and Dick Bertolucci began sporting Vogue tires on their customs and Cadillac took notice. Soon after the war, rubber production ramped up again and Cadillac placed a huge order to begin a relationship with Vogue that still lasts today.
Of course, whitewall trends come and go in this industry and these days Vogue is just a small tire company that mostly supplies Cadillac conversion companies. Their contribution to the history of the whitewall is completely debatable, but they were certainly a big part of the movement and I love the story.
Editors Note: Anyone remember the ’65 Riviera in The Rodders Journal a few years ago sporting the gold stripe whitewall Vogue tires? Apparently, they still make some pretty cool stuff that is underutilized to a good degree…