American Biltrite Inc. History
Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts 02181
Telephone: (617) 237-6655
Fax: (617) 237-6880
Incorporated:1954 as American Biltrite Rubber Company
Sales: $106.1 million (1994)
Stock Exchanges: American
SICs: 3253 Ceramic Wall & Floor Tile; 3069 Fabricated Rubber Products, Not Elsewhere Classified; 2672 Coated & Laminated Paper, Not Elsewhere Classified
A leader in its field, American Biltrite Inc. produces adhesive-coated, pressure-sensitive papers and films, pressure-sensitive tapes and adhesive products, and floor coverings. During the mid-1990s, American Biltrite operated through five plants located in the United States, Europe, Canada, and the Far East, marketing its products to a wide range of industries.
American Biltrite began as a small family-owned enterprise when Miah Marcus and Frank Bernstein jointly founded the Ewell Rubber Company in 1908. The business partnership established between Marcus and Bernstein that year marked the beginning of a close association between their two families, one that would unite generations of their descendants for decades to come. Together, the Marcus and Bernstein families led the company through its formative decades and into maturity, developing it into a recognized world leader in its field through expansion and diversification, as each successive generation assumed the reins of command first held by Miah Marcus and Frank Bernstein. The legacy of Marcus-Bernstein leadership lasted 74 years, spanning two world wars, a decade-long depression, and sweeping technological advancements in the industry. Then, after the two families decided to go their separate ways, their dissociation gave birth to an entirely new company, American Biltrite Inc. of the 1990s. For the Marcus family, who continued to control American Biltrite during the 1990s, much was owed to the early efforts of their forefather, Miah Marcus, and his business associate, Frank Bernstein.
The First Fifty Years
When Miah Marcus and Frank Bernstein started Ewell Rubber in 1908, they joined one of the oldest industries in the United States, a business that traced its roots to the first shoemakers in the American Colonies. Although Marcus and Bernstein were not cobblers, they were closely involved with the cobblers of their time, having established Ewell Rubber as a manufacturer of rubber heels and soles for the shoe rebuilding industry. In this business, Ewell Rubber and its descendant companies would remain for the decades to follow, developing into the largest producer of its kind in the world.
The company did not take long to begin its long climb to the top of its industry, recording encouraging success from the beginning of its corporate life. By 1910, two years after its founding, Ewell Rubber's business was brisk enough to warrant the addition of a second manufacturing facility, known as Panther Rubber Mfg. Co., in Stoughton, Massachusetts. The company's next defining move occurred in 1913, when Marcus and Bernstein established a Canadian division. The foray into Canada marked a signal year in the young company's development, extending its presence beyond U.S. borders for the first time and securing a foothold in markets that would contribute revenue for the remainder of the century. Next, another manufacturing facility was established in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1917, adding a fourth facet to the company's scope of operations as it neared the conclusion of its first decade of existence. The division in Chelsea, originally named the Panco Rubber Company, was dedicated to the production of heels and soles, as were the other two U.S. facilities in Stoughton and Trenton. In 1932, the Chelsea and the Stoughton operations were renamed the Panther Panco Rubber Company, a corporate title that would endure until 1951, when the company became known as American Biltrite Rubber Company.
During these first decades of growth, the company entered into a new business, that of flooring materials, which, along with rubber heel and sole production, established its existence during the years of Marcus-Bernstein leadership and constituted the basis of American Biltrite's business after the departure of the Bernstein family. In 1917, when the Chelsea plant was built, the production facility at Trenton, the birthplace of the company, was expanded and revamped to produce Amtico Rubber Flooring, giving birth to the American Tile and Rubber Company. From the production of rubber floorings, the company later established additional facilities to manufacture vinyl floorings, eventually becoming the world's largest producer of floorings made with both materials. Driven by the business generated by its two product lines, footwear materials and flooring materials, the company persevered through the 1930s, withstanding the debilitative effects of the Depression, and entered the 1940s, as the United States geared itself for the entry into the Second World War.
During the war, the Amtico manufacturing facilities were converted to produce shoe soles for the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy. The production plants at Chelsea and Stoughton also did their part to aid in the prosecution of the war effort, supplying the armed forces with heels, soles, and raincoats, for which the company received Certificates of Appreciation in recognition of its valuable contributions.
The conclusion of international hostilities and the beginning of the 1950s ushered in a decade of prolific, unprecedented growth for the Marcus-Bernstein-controlled company, the last decade in which the concern operated out of the public spotlight. As if to signal the arrival of exponential growth and the ascension to global leadership in its markets, the company changed its name in 1951, adopting the corporate title, "American Biltrite Rubber Company." Under this banner, American Biltrite moved forward during the 1950s, recording resolute growth as the postwar rebirth of the nation's economy invigorated manufacturing industries across the country. Between 1954 and 1959, American Biltrite enjoyed uninterrupted sales and earnings growth, recording during the six-year period a 151 percent increase in annual sales and a prodigious 745 percent leap in net income. On the heels of this impressive upswing in sales and earnings, American Biltrite became a publicly traded company, making its initial stock offering in April 1959 as it concluded its first 50 years of business and moved forward under the scrutiny of the public eye.
The energetic climb of sales and earnings came to a halt in 1960, but the setback was only temporary, engendered by start-up costs incurred from an ambitious expansion program launched by the company as the decade began. The expansion program became the largest in American Biltrite's history by the time it was concluded, bolstering the company's already solid and world-recognized market position. Before the benefits of the expansion program were realized, American Biltrite's annual sales volume exceeded $70 million and its market dominance already had been established. The company ranked as the largest producer of rubber soling material in the world, one of the four largest manufacturers of rubber heels, and one of the two largest producers of solid vinyl and rubber floor coverings. Footwear and floorings, however, only represented part of American Biltrite's manufacturing scope. Buttressing its stalwart market leadership in these two business areas was the company's involvement in a host of other markets, giving it a balanced customer base. Of American Biltrite's total sales volume at the beginning of the 1960s, 40 percent was generated by the company's industrial rubber and miscellaneous products division, which manufactured a variety of products for the oil and automotive industries. Another 25 percent of sales was derived from the production of transmission and conveyor belts for the construction, mining, textile, automotive, air conditioning, agricultural, and aviation industries. All told, the company was registering enviable success in each of its business areas as the 1960s began. Moreover, as the decade unfolded American Biltrite improved itself on all fronts, strengthening each segment of its operations through aggressive expansion and strategic acquisitions.
The expansion program of the early 1960s began in 1960 with the acquisition of National Shoe Products Corp., a distributor of shoe supplies to manufacturers. With the distribution area of its Biltrite footwear products line broadened by the addition of National Shoe Products, American Biltrite next strengthened its floor coverings business, acquiring a vinyl-asbestos and asphalt coverings manufacturer, Bonafide Mills, Inc., in 1961 and doubling the production capacity of its Amtico Rubber Flooring division in Trenton, New Jersey in 1962. Two new manufacturing plants began operation in 1962 as well, a shoe and heel facility in Ripley, Mississippi and a pressure hose manufacturing facility in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Additional expansion efforts were completed at the company's chemical production plant in Wilmington, Massachusetts and its Sherbrooke plant in Quebec, which provided American Biltrite with its first Canadian facilities for manufacturing vinyl asbestos and asphalt tile. By the end of 1963, manufacturing square footage had been increased roughly 50 percent. Growth continued in the years following, making the 1960s as productive a decade as the 1950s.
By 1967, sales had nearly doubled from the total recorded at the beginning of the decade, reaching $142 million. Of total sales during the late 1960s, one-third was generated by Amtico Rubber Flooring and the solid vinyl and asbestos tile flooring it manufactured. Still a leader in its field, Amtico Rubber Flooring's product line was broadened in 1967 with the acquisition of Dalton, Georgia-based Noxon Mills, Inc., a manufacturer of various types of carpeting. Montreal-based Consolidated Carpet Mfg., Ltd. was purchased the following year, adding another carpeting concern to the company's fold and aiding in its push to become a major carpet producer. Two other divisions rounded out the rest of American Biltrite's operations: Biltrite Footwear, the world's largest producer of shoe soling materials, which widened its lead in 1967 with the acquisition of Cat's Paw Rubber Company, and a relatively new division, Boston Woven Hose & Rubber.
Boston Woven Hose & Rubber had been acquired in 1956, midway through American Biltrite's six-year period of vigorous growth during the decade, ranking the company as a leader in the production of industrial rubber products such as rubber and plastic bases, conveyor belts, and transmission belts. Within this division was the synthetic turf and sports surface department, which was regarded by industry observers as perhaps the most promising area of American Biltrite's business during the late 1960s. Two new products introduced during the late 1960s by this department, Uni-Turf and Poly-Turf, were marketed in relatively new niches in the broadly defined flooring materials market. Uni-Turf, soon after its introduction, had been used at several major tennis tournaments, and Poly-Turf, a synthetic grass that could withstand cleated shoes, had scored encouraging initial success as a surface for outdoor playgrounds and baseball and football stadiums.
The wide-ranging business interests that composed American Biltrite's operations provided steady, consistent growth as the company entered the 1970s, the last decade of Marcus-Bernstein leadership and the last decade the company's business mix would be as diverse. In 1982, the Marcus and Bernstein families, who each owned 37.5 percent of American Biltrite, signed a definitive agreement to divide into two separate corporations. At the time they declined to provide a reason for the split. From 1982 forward, there would be two companies that shared the roots of American Biltrite: Biltrite Corporation, which comprised the domestic footwear business formerly belonging to American Biltrite, and American Biltrite Inc., consisting of the floor covering, tape products, and Canadian businesses formerly owned by American Biltrite. After seven decades of close cooperation, the two families had severed the ties that linked them together, with the Bernsteins assuming 75 percent control of Biltrite Corporation and the Marcuses controlling 75 percent of American Biltrite Inc. The remaining 25 percent of each company was sold to the public.
In the wake of the 1982 spin-off, American Biltrite underwent several years of dramatic change, quickly assuming the attributes that would characterize the company during the 1990s. In June 1983, Marcus-led management steered American Biltrite in a new direction, acquiring 50 percent interest in K&M Associates, a national jewelry supplier that sold costume jewelry to large retail chains such as Sears and Wal-Mart. Although the acquisition of a jewelry supplier took the company in a decidedly different direction, the 50 percent stake in K&M Associates proved to be a boon to American Biltrite's profitability. By 1985, the profits gleaned from K&M Associates' business activities were contributing more than half of American Biltrite's total earnings, buoying the company's stature as it sought to redefine itself following the 1982 reorganization.
In addition to developing entirely new business interests, American Biltrite also focused on strengthening its more traditional business interests, such as building a $4 million vinyl floor tile manufacturing facility at its Amtico Rubber Flooring division's plant in Trenton, New Jersey in late 1985. The following year, the company completed its most defining move in its new, modern era, acquiring Ideal Tape Co. from Chelsea Industries for $9.3 million. A manufacturer of pressure-sensitive tape for the footwear, computer, and heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) industries, Ideal Tape would become one of the primary engines driving American Biltrite's growth during the late 1980s and into the 1990s. With manufacturing plants in Lowell, Massachusetts, St. Louis, Missouri, and Renaix, Belgium, Ideal Tape also increased American Biltrite's global presence and, combined with the marketing strength of the company's Canadian footwear division, enabled American Biltrite to secure a more entrenched position in Canada in particular.
In the four years since the Bernsteins and Marcuses had divided their assets, by the end of 1986, American Biltrite had made tremendous strides. Revenues had more than doubled since the 1982 split, rising to $110.1 million, and the company's earnings had recorded a robust jump, soaring to $3.1 million from a deficit in 1982. American Biltrite continued to expand its customer base and product lines during the late 1980s and into the 1990s, building its growth on the development of its pressure-sensitive and adhesive tape products. In 1993, the company completed the formation of a joint venture with Congoleum Corporation that combined its floor tile business with Congoleum's principal business of producing sheet vinyl flooring, creating an entity that retained the name Congoleum Corporation yet was 44 percent owned by American Biltrite.
As American Biltrite entered the mid-1990s, the company was enjoying substantial growth, with its two primary divisions achieving high levels of performance. In 1994, American Biltrite's tape products division recorded a 28 percent increase in sales, the largest in the division's history. The company's Ideal Tape division also recorded a banner year, increasing its sales 18 percent, the biggest gain in its history. As American Biltrite prepared for the late 1990s and the future, its international business was growing rapidly, particularly in the Far East and in Australia, where the company served markets through its Singapore-based operation, American Biltrite Far East, Inc. With both its domestic and foreign businesses performing encouragingly well, American Biltrite's expectations for future growth were justifiably optimistic, as another generation of the Marcus family guided the company toward its second century of business.
Principal Subsidiaries: American Biltrite (Canada), Ltd.; American Biltrite International, Inc.; American Biltrite Far East, Inc. (Singapore); American Biltrite Sales Corporation; Ideal Tape Co., Inc.; American Biltrite Intellectual Properties, Inc.; K&M Trading (H.K.) Limited (Hong Kong); Congoleum Corporation.
Principal Divisions: Tape Products; Ideal Tape Co.
- "American Biltrite," Rubber World, July 1986, p. 5.
- "American Biltrite Board Clears Accord To Split Firm into 2 Companies," Wall Street Journal, May 26, 1982, p. 41.
- "American Biltrite Closing Two Plants," Barron's, November 17, 1980, p. 51.
- "American Biltrite Rubber," Financial World, December 27, 1972, p. 16.
- "American Biltrite Rubber," Wall Street Transcript, July 8, 1968, p. 13,793.
- "American Biltrite Rubber Results Snap Back from a Modest Decline," Barron's, September 30, 1963, p. 22.
- "American Biltrite Signs Accord To Split into Two Concerns," Wall Street Journal, August 12, 1982, p. 5.
- "Flashier Than It Looks," Forbes, September 9, 1985, p. 158.
- Maturi, Richard J., "Tape Measure," Barron's, May 11, 1987, p. 64.
- Nicholson, Sy, "American Biltrite Has Many Facets for Continued Growth," Investment Dealers' Digest, 1961, p. 32.
- Rolland, Louis J., "Biltrite on the Amex," Financial World, December 11, 1963, p. 21.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 16. St. James Press, 1997.