Rubber-Made

1888 patent for a comb design awarded to Paul Witteck of the Butler Hard Rubber Co. and witnessed by William Kiel.

By Erin Feith, Research Assistant
January 30, 2024

By the latter half of the 19th century, the rubber industry met the roads of Butler, then a part of Pequannock Township. After a series of ownership changes, the American Hard Rubber Company emerged as a leading manufacturer of rubber products such as Ace combs and bowling balls. Not only a driving force of local industry, the company also contributed to the development of its surroundings and the community at large.

The long-running enterprise began as the Day Rubber Company in 1869. Despite changing hands several times over the course of its early years, the business continued to expand through 1876 when it was acquired by the Rubber Comb and Jewelry Company. During this period, the leadership of Richard Butler and William Kiel brought about great success. Acting as president and general manager, Butler oversaw merchandising from the New York City office, while Kiel implemented new processes in rubber compounding that increased production efficiency during his time as superintendent. In 1898, the company, which by then bore Butler’s name, merged with one-time rivals to form the American Hard Rubber Co., offering a wide variety of products that ranged from pocket combs to electric storage batteries.

1888 advertisement for Butler Hard Rubber Co.’s “Hercules” combs which could be bought across the US for 25¢-75¢.

The expansion of the business was accompanied by an increase in the local population as people sought available employment opportunities. To support its ever-growing workforce, the American Hard Rubber Co. purchased large tracts of land for employee housing and organized streets in the immediate vicinity. Newly constructed company homes were made more affordable through installment plans, and beyond residential development, Butler himself also donated land for the erection of a school and two churches.

The American Hard Rubber Co. continued to thrive into the 20th century, as it shaped the newly incorporated borough of Butler (1901). Employment reached its peak during the First and Second World Wars, as the business became an integral manufacturer of war materials. However, by the 1950s, the company was acquired as a division of the Amerace Corporation and most production was moved out-of-state, leading to the plant’s closure in 1974. With its Main Street factory readapted for commercial use today, the American Hard Rubber Co. still leaves a notable mark on the local landscape.