OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEagle Rubber Company started in a small garage on Orange Street in 1913. A few employees turned out thousands of balloons using makeshift equipment. On May 27, 1916, the company was incorporated by Harry Gill Sr. and Harry Polley.

As the business grew, a three-story building with 18,000 feet was constructed. The company spawned an industry that led to Ashland Ohio becoming the balloon capital of the world. By 1923, rubber play balls and sponge rubber balls were added to the production line. In 1929, the business was sold to Kenton R. Cravens and John Sweeney. Gill went on later to start National Latex Company.

By 1940, the company had expanded to three buildings with more than 60,000 square feet. Then came World War II and the business was converted from a toy manufacturer to a maker of military equipment. Eagle produced inflated life belts, Mae West jackets, and inflated landing boats, food bags, delousing bags, instrument cases and ponchos.

The company retooled in 1945 for production using new vinyl materials, which were less costly than rubber. In 1951, Dick Long was named president, and Bob Tipton, Bob Castor and Len Rauth began their long and distinguished careers with the company.

Kent Sporting Goods in New London was formed as a subsidiary of Eagle Rubber Co. in 1957. This company kept expanding and other companies throughout the United States were purchased.

In 1971, Brown Group of St. Louis purchased Eagle and Kent Sporting Goods and added needed capital for building a $2 million computerized warehouse. Another subsidiary, Vittert Sports in St. Louis was acquired. In 1976 Eagle was the world’s largest producer of sponge rubber, blow molded and vinyl play balls and offered the most complete line in its industry.

In 1981, the Eagle facility on Orange Street continued to do business under the name of Hedstrom Corporation, which was founded in 1915 as a bicycle manufacturer.

The corporation in 2004 declared bankruptcy and closed its facilities before former employees and investors purchased the company. Local investors bought Hedstrom’s local assets and name, under a new company, Ball, Bounce & Sport Inc.

A new plant was opened in the former Ashland Square Plaza on Baney Road in October of 2010. BB&S’s Hedstrom Entertainment Division makes play balls and other toys in Asia for U.S. and Canadian markets and Hedstrom Plastics’ rotomolding facility in the former Walmart building manufactures vinyl and polyethylene exercise and recreation equipment, plastic parts and other items for vendors of consumer and industrial products.