Cotton, blimps, and President Reagan’s limo. What do these three things have in common?
Goodyear. (The tire company, not the Arizona city. But that’s fodder for a future blog post).
I visited the Litchfield Park Historical Society and Museum (pictured above) this week to get the down low on the city’s origins and its unique historical connection to the Akron, Ohio rubber conglomerate.
It occurred to me that if it wasn’t for a few twists of history (like German submarines patrolling the North Atlantic during 1915), the west Valley of Phoenix may have looked entirely different.
The Fabric of Our Lives
At the outbreak of WW1 in 1914, the vastly larger British Navy confined the surface ships of the German Imperial Navy to the German Bight in the North Sea. Germans could not compete on the surface, so the naval fleets of Germany and the Central Powers went below the waves. They moved beyond the North Sea utilizing submarines, Unterseeboots, or U-Boats, to torpedo Allied supply ships. The German submarines launched a blockade on Allied supply ships during the War in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic.
About the same time, automobile tire technology in the United States shifted. Solid rubber tires were giving up market share to pneumatic (pressurized-air) models to extend the life of the increasingly popularized US roads. The new design also allowed tires to last longer but it had an Achilles heel in a war environment. The superior pressurized-air pneumatic tires were interwoven and strengthened with cords of Egyptian long-staple cotton.
The Egyptian supplies could not get through the German submarine blockade. Tire manufacturers needed another plan.
Goodyear of Akron, Ohio and other tire manufacturers began to look for alternate locations within the US to procure cotton and meet demand.
Compounding difficulties for the tire manufacturers at the time, the southeastern US states had been hit by a boll weevil infestation beginning in 1915. The scourge decimated cotton crops (completely wiping out Georgia’s Sea Island cotton by 1920) and would set back mainland production there for decades. States like Georgia and Mississippi were subsequently eliminated as options.
Central Arizona was recognized for its arid climate closely resembling Egypt. Short-staple cotton had already been successfully grown in the Sonoran Desert by the Hohokam for centuries.
Paul Litchfield was an executive at Goodyear in Akron. He was tasked with the monumental job of establishing a solution to the cotton shortage. Litchfield had a few feathers in his cap including inventions
Litchfield selected 16,000 acres in a remote location along the Agua Fria River in the west Valley. So remote, in fact, that the first Goodyear executives had to travel for hours by horse and buggy after disembarking from the train in Phoenix. Much of the land had been owned by William Kriegbaum, a California citrus grower. Goodyear paid $25 an acre. Goodyear added 8,000 acres in Chandler and thousands more in present-day Sun City (known at the turn of the 20th century as Marinette Ranch).
Count Your Zeppelins
Goodyear Aircraft Corporation in Arizona (later Goodyear Aerospace) opened in 1941. This subsidiary created the blimps near Litchfield Park that scanned the North Atlantic for German U-Boats in the Second World War. You will find more on Goodyear Aerospace at the Litchfield Park Historical Society and Museum.
Making Limos from Limo-nade
As for President Reagan’s limousine connection, you will have to visit the museum to see this firsthand. After the Hinckley assassination attempt on the President in 1981, the U.S. government contracted with Goodyear Aerospace to fortify Reagan’s motorcade. There is a hefty sample of the bulletproof glass manufactured by Goodyear Aerospace in Litchfield Park that was used in the Reagan presidential limousine. It is almost 3 inches thick.
The Litchfield Park Historical Society and Museum (pictured above) are open to the public Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10am to 4pm. Admission is free but voluntary donations allow for its continued operation.
Below is a list of homes for sale in Litchfield Park. Newer listings are featured first.
People say New Yorkers can’t get along. Not true. I saw two New Yorkers, complete strangers, sharing a cab. One guy took the tires and the radio; the other guy took the engine. – David Letterman, American comedian, and late night TV personality