It’s a story 100 years in the making. William Spencer left his Franklin, KY home in 1904 at the age of 13 with $25 in his pocket to pursue his personal “manifest destiny.” Nothing great happens overnight and ultimate success is built on failures and small successes that test one’s ability to learn, absorb and use hard-earned lessons that lead to finding one’s place. Having heard great tales of opportunity out West, he traveled by rail for the next 19 years until he founded Alliance Rubber at the age of 32. During his initial rail travels, he rode in boxcars, under boxcars, and on top of boxcars. His postcards home to his mother from the road all across America have been preserved in albums by his family and reveal the most authentic history of his dozens of jobs and hardscrabble life on the road in search of the place where heart, mind, and excitement unite for his EUREKA moment. This moment is a culmination of lessons learned from his tough life on the road that led to his founding of Alliance Rubber.
As Told By Mr. Spencer
There is no more authentic history than the Alliance Rubber story as told by Mr. Spencer, a true entrepreneur: “It was late in 1917 that I chose to come to Alliance, OH. The train fare from Pittsburgh was about $2.20 which left me with less than $3.00. Morgan Engineering had a contract for armored tanks that offered jobs. Instead of starting at Morgan, I found a job working for the Pennsylvania Railroad in train service. At that time, the old Chase House honored the so-called “pie books” issued by Pennsylvania Railroad which kept me until payday. For about five years I had time to settle on a program – that of launching Alliance. To be exact … March 7, 1923. The first Rubber Bands were produced from the then small diameter, high-pressure factory reject inner tubes which I had purchased in Akron. My first pioneering in band markets was to encourage the newspaper circulation departments to use bands to secure their papers when thrown, and the Akron Beacon-Journal and Tulsa World were the first two newspapers to try bands for home delivery. Then I solicited greengrocers and produce markets to substitute their string and twine for our bands.
By this time, I had job security from my railroad pay to bid on a Cleveland passenger run which allowed me a full day in Cleveland and then the next day in Alliance to meet both expenses and handle the company’s workload. In time, some of my job buddies earned extra cash by helping at Alliance, and the business expanded to where I had to move from the garage and basement and add another cutting machine. For the first 14 years of Alliance, I had to moonlight on the Pennsylvania Railroad to make our payroll and expenses and was finally able to quit the railroad in late 1937.
I pioneered new band markets and pitched new types and sizes for many types of growers, merchants, and factories; and, in time, this business became a target for some of the older line band manufacturers envious to convert our customers to using their standard bands. This created another problem since we were buying their band tubing and could not compete with them selling our customers.
I purchased the old laundry building in Alliance at 629 N. Union Avenue which was offered for sale during the 1930 depression. I decided to install equipment to make rubber bands from crude rubber to meet the competition and we began the factory from scratch. If Mr. Chambers were alive, he’d explain how he did the carpentry remodeling for $.42 per hour.
In the meantime, I kept my railroad job until late 1937. I needed the railroad money to pay for Alliance and eventually convert users from string and twine to bands. Eventually, a competitor began in 1956 which resulted in one-third of our business leaving us and we were forced to cut our prices by 40% to retain our remaining customers. Prior to our new competitor, our policy was to avoid competition by pioneering new markets and uses. Since crude rubber hit a low of $.03 per pound versus almost $2.00 per pound during WWII, this provided businesses the opportunity to use bands that previously had been cost-prohibitive. The oldline established band manufacturers contended Alliance should fall in line with their higher prices established many years before. Another issue was created and I was pointedly threatened that if I didn’t sell my Green Newscarrier Bands at $1.05 per pound instead Of $.75, I would regret it. I ignored them and encouraged a free market. The American Free Enterprise System has proven to be the best. The reward of having a sincere and dedicated Alliance team is evident in our good business.”
100 Years Later
After a century Alliance Rubber is still a family-owned business with a rich and distinctive American Heritage. What began as a simple, practical and reliable solution for everyday life has been transformed by our team members into a multifaceted collection of more than 2,400 products designed for “Holding Your World Together.”
How have we accomplished this? We have done it through production innovations provided by our associates who continue to find ways to improve production capabilities, to create the new and unexpected, and to make goals become realities – realities that benefit our customers and end-users of our products.
“Our associates are an integral part of our continuing success,” says Bonnie Spencer Swayze, Alliance’s president. “Their superior American craftsmanship shines and enables us to make some of the world’s best polymer products. The 100-year Alliance Rubber story is remarkable in that our people have been tireless in their ingenuity to triumph over incredible odds. Our people rise to the occasion to bring exciting value-added products to market. We are not only a family-owned business, we are a family made up of 160 families who have come together and worked side by side to enable Alliance to grow and flourish. They, as much as our products, are our legacy. In 2022, we won the Sentinel Record Reader’s Choice Award for Best Large Employer in Garland County. More than 70% of our team have been with us for over five years, and 95% of our managers were promoted from entry-level positions where they learned from experience and showed creativity and leadership skills to train and motivate others. We take pride in nurturing our associates to excel which enables us to be a leader in manufacturing innovation. Our team is the best anywhere.
This is also an important time to thank our customers – those who, in the beginning, took a gamble and bought our product, those who have challenged us throughout the years to meet their individual custom needs, those who understand the importance of manufacturing to America’s economic stability, and those who have complimented our team for being the easiest people to work with to accomplish their individual goals. We appreciate you and the support you have given and continue to give to all of us at Alliance Rubber Company.”