By Dan Shine
The Armstrong Rubber Company
By 1950, James Walsh, Jr. was the manager of the West Haven Plant, one of three Armstrong facilities. He had grown up across the street from the Armstrong factory, and had been in and out of it since he was five. The Armstrong facility manufactured private-branded tires for almost all of the other tire companies during these years.
Walsh had purchased a large tract of land on top of Shingle Hill, and had built his large brick home there, all by itself, with a commanding view of West Haven, and the Armstrong factory. Across Shingle Hill Road, his only neighbor was the Dwyer family, who also were represented on the Armstrong board of directors.
As the story goes, Frank Dwyer, who would later become president of Armstrong, built his home on property adjoined by property owned by the New Haven Water Company. When the Water Company installed the water tanks that still stand there today, Dwyer was so upset, that the Water Company, in an effort to assuage his anger, painted a forest of trees on the sides of the tanks, so that it would feel to him like he was still living in a completely wooded area.
By 1960, Armstrong employed over 900 in West Haven alone; Sears needed a western US factory to make their tires, and Walsh was sent to California’s San Joaquin Valley to oversee the building and setup of that new factory. By 1965, he was the vice-president of sales to Sears. These were difficult days, as Sears began to split its orders between Armstrong and the French tire company, Michelin. Armstrong’s position began to slip.
By 1970, Armstrong still employed a force of 600-700 people. And as always, it was an organization that made its workers feel like a big family. Many a West Havener has fond memories of working at the factory on Elm Street during this period. James Walsh took a fatherly interest in his employees, helping them personally when he thought it necessary.
But in 1973, the Mideast oil crisis began. By this time, the main component used in the manufacture of tires was not rubber—it was petroleum. Armstrong, further weakened, could not compete effectively against the major tire manufacturers when the cost of petroleum spiked. They were bought out by Armtek Corporation, and then later by Pirelli Tire. The once-busy West Haven factory—a city within a city–was eventually shuttered on April 1, 1981, and was never used again. It was the end of an era.