12 February 2020

Fascinating F1 Facts: 71 - Quite a family

In 1892 Tokujiro Ishibashi opened a tailor shop called Shimaya in the Honcho district of Kurume City, close to the port of Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu, in south-western Japan. His children Jutaro and Shojiro were six and three at the time but as they grew up they joined the family business and in 1906 the took over the business at the ages of 20 and 17. They decided to reduce the tailoring and increase production of tabi, traditional Japanese footwear made from cloth. They invested in cutting and sewing machinery and by 1916 had grown sufficiently to open a factory in the Arai-machi district. They then began to create rubber-soled tabi, called jikatabi, and expanded the sales across the whole of Japan with a company called Nihon Tabi. This was followed by diversification into athletic shoes in 1923 and in 1928 they opened a new factory in Fukuoka to manufacture shoes for sales all over the world. They had money to burn. They helped to establish the Kyushu Medical School, donating land and buildings and began collecting art, which would later form the celebrated Ishibashi Collection.

Shojiro also wanted to look at the tyre business and bought a tyre-making machine in 1929. Although the brothers had plenty of money behind them, it was a risky idea as the Japanese tyre industry was dominated by Dunlop (which had started in 1913) and Yokohama, which had begun in 1921.

Jutaro, who had by then changed his name to Tokujiro (their father’s name), opposed the idea but Shojiro was sure it would work. This led to a split in 1931 with Tokujiro taking all the shares in the shoe business and Shojiro taking over the entire tyre business. The former would change the company name to Japan Rubber, while Shojiro played around with the English translation of the Ishibashi name - "ishi" meaning stone and "bashi" meaning bridge - and came up with Bridgestone. The Bridgestone company suffered after the war, initially having to manufacture bicycles to stay in business and in 1949 Shojiro provided the finance for the Tokyo Electric Car Company, which was set up from elements of the Tachikawa Aircraft Company Ltd. This soon became the Tama Electric Car Company but began to use gasoline engines created by Fuji Precision Industries. Shojiro acquired this firm and in 1952 transformed the business into the Prince Motor Company, which would later be merged into Nissan in 1966. Bridgestone went back into the tyre business in the early 1950s. As car sales boomed the company flourished.

The rivalry between the two brothers continued until 1958 when Tohijiro died. By then Japan Rubber has changed its name again and had become the Asahi Shoe Company. Three years after that – Shojiro decided to float the company and two years later he stood down and allowed his son Kanichiro to take over. He remained as chairman until 1973.

He died in 1976 at the age of 87

In 1983 Bridgestone bought a Firestone factory in Tennessee and five years later acquired the whole Firestone company for $2.6 billion.

Bridgestone did not get involved in motor racing until 1963, battling with its rivals Dunlop and Yokohama, but the company long had the ambition to enter Grand Prix racing. The cost of the Firestone takeover meant that was impossible but in 1989 the firm began testing F1-spec tyres. Bridgestone finally entered F1 with Arrows in 1996 and after some impressive showings attracted McLaren and Benetton in 1998. It won its first World Championship with Mika Hakkinen.

The family remains both wealthy and powerful. Shojiro’s daughter Yasuko Hatoyama married Iichirō Hatoyama, the son of Ichirō Hatoyama, who would became Prime Minister in the mid-1950s. Iichiro himself would become Foreign Minister in the 1970s.

Yasuko and Iichiro’s son Yukio became Prime Minister in 2009, while his brother Kunio was a government minister several times, notably as Justice Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Not bad for a family of shoemakers…

« Here's the new Haas!

Fascinating F1 Facts: 70 - A company with a lively history »