On February 1 in the year 1889, one of the famous industrialists in the rubber industry was born in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. His name is Shōjirō Ishibashi, the founder of Bridgestone Corporation, the world’s largest tire manufacturer.
Shojiro was the son of a couple who owned a tailoring business. As a teenager, he had to quit school in 1906 to take over the management of the family business. Early on, he displayed his entrepreneurial skill when he identified a product with market potential. He began manufacturing and marketing the “Tabi”, a kind of shoes made of straw. To develop awareness of his product, he travelled around Japan with the footwear’s name splashed on the body of his newly imported American car.
After the First World War, he introduced rubber soles in the footwear, an innovation to give his shoes longer lifetime since straw can easily worn out. As his brand of footwear became popular, he built a rubber factory to supply the needed soles.
In 1930, Shojiro sensed the rising need for durable tires as Japan speeded its march to industrialization. Because he already had a rubber factory, car and bicycle makers approached him if he could supply them with tires. The following year, he incorporated Bridgestone Tires Company. The name Bridgestone was derived from his family name: ishi is the Japanese for stone and bashi means bridge. He chose the name in part because he envisioned the company to become world class and it is easier to be pronounced by non-Japanese people.
Shojiro died in 1976 at the age of 87. A decade after his death, Bridgestone acquired Firestone, its foremost competitor. In 2019, Fortune Magazine listed Bridgestone as #340 in its list of world’s largest corporations. He had two grandsons who became active in Japanese politics: Kunio Hatoyama, who served as Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, and Yukio Hatoyama, who was Prime Minister from 2009 to 2010.