America's First Rubber Street
Exchange Street, Akron, September 1948
In September 1948, 6,217 feet of Exchange Street in Akron, Ohio, became
America's first "Rubber Road" when construction workers resurfaced the
brick street with a hot, pungent mixture of asphalt with rubber
First the north lane
of Exchange Street, between South Broadway and Five Points
near Maple Street was covered with the black material and compressed
with large rollers. After a few hours to cool, traffic resumed on the
Within a week both north and south lanes
were finished. The stretch of rubber road was marked with city signs at
each end advising motorists of the unique surface.
Akron was home to a major rubber
industry. Paul Weeks Litchfield, president of the Goodyear Company, had
seen rubberized paving material on roads in Holland, during a
visit the previous year. It had been adopted there in the
Litchfield realized there would be huge
financial benefits to his rubber company if his product was to be
incorporated in America's future road projects. He invited Dr. I. R.
Houwink, director general of the Dutch Rubber Foundation to speak to
Akron's city fathers about the benefits of rubber additives in road
surfaces, and Litchfield offered to donate a sufficient supply of
rubber for for a test paving project in Akron.
Houwink spoke glowingly of the value of
rubberized additives in road paving. He claimed that use of the
material produced a smooth, non-skid surface that was more durable,
water-resistant and gave good protection to the sub-surface structure
of the road, thus reducing maintenance expense.
The city leaders agreed to the
experiment, since local weather varied through the years between hot,
wet and freezing resulting in surface conditions that varied from
slippery to brittle. The promise of city streets that were less
susceptible to damage was appealing. A smoother ride, with reduced wear
and tear on the automobiles on a rubberized surface was seen as an
Accordingly a limited
experiment was authorized, and small test areas were prepared
in 1947 on Rose Boulevard and South Main near Long Street in Akron
using asphalt mixed with donated synthetic rubber from Goodyear. One
year later, the results were satisfactory, and the large-scale test on
Exchange Street began. Again, crumbled synthetic rubber was supplied
free by Goodyear, which was added to a vat of asphalt at 175ºF
prepared by the Thorpe Construction Company. This mixture was laid down
to a thickness of 2½ inches, and topped with a skin of
"coffee ground" rubber.
To better evaluate the new surface,
control areas used regular asphalt alone, some areas used a mixture
with 5% rubber content, and other areas used a mixture with 7½%
Within the first year of heavy traffic
use, the highway engineer at the time, Iver Schmidt, inspected the road
surface discerned no wear. That was not surprising, since it would take
more years of use before meaningful results could be determined.
In the years while the original project
remained to be evaluated, more use was made of rubberized asphalt not
only in Akron (North Main Street), but also Cuyahoga Falls (Broad
Boulevard) and parts of Ohio Routes 5, 18, 82 and 224.
Goodyear began to market its product for
road surfacing use under the trade name Rubarite. Other
major companies followed suit, with U.S. Rubber selling Latricrete and
Firestone distributing Rub-R-Road.
Cities in several states that started their own tests of the product
included Baltimore, MD; Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI; Milwaukee,
WI; Washington, D.C.; and New York.
By 1959, the original test on Exchange
Street, Akron had over 10 years wear from traffic, and it was time for
a definitive evaluation of the rubberized asphalt paving material.
However, when highway engineer Iver Schmidt examined the road, he found
the rubberized areas were not significantly different than the regular
asphalt control areas. There was no substantial benefit to the use of
rubber, so the almost triple cost was not justified. In fact, in
addition to the greater expense, Akron decided it was more difficult to
apply, had an objectionable smell, and so permanently discontinued its
The experiment had run its course, but
the final outcome was disappointing for city roads.
However, the rubber asphalt mixture
remains in use on running tracks or walking path surfaces, which
application still provides an outlet to recycle rubber from worn-out
tyres and divert them from landfills.
Reference: "That Stretch of Road" by Mark J. Price, Beacon Journal,
Monday 13 Sep 2004.