Innovation Little Bitz: Bolta Rubber Products
Bolta Rubber Products
When German chemist John Bolten came to this country in 1929, he brought his business, the production of hard rubber combs, with him. Setting up shop in Lawrence, his company, originally known as Bolta Rubber Company, soon added plastic hangers to its lineup. Bolta, like most manufacturers, retooled for World War II and made hard rubber inserts for the metal helmets worn by our GIs. Bolta’s heyday occurred during the economic expansion after the war. The demand for housing and cars had Bolta’s factories humming with the production of automotive and furniture upholstery fabrics, vinyl flooring and wall coverings. More than likely, that cafeteria tray you held during the late 1950s was made by Bolta.
Fashion designer Stella McCartney recently said that using animal products in designer duds is “cruel, but also not modern, you’re not pushing innovation.” Mid-century manufacturer Bolta defined innovation with its man-made products. The company was nimble in responding to market demands and proactive in uncovering new business frontiers.
Veteran Bolta executive George Brown remembers working in a dizzying, fast-paced environment in which new applications for durable fabrics were introduced frequently, including inserts for shoes, sturdy metallic threads for belted beach chairs and ubiquitous coffee pots for diners. According to Brown, Bolta’s design team on Marston Street worked with top designers from the home and fashion industries and produced fabrics that helped express the era’s spirit of newness. McCartney would have approved: Brown recalls Bolta’s shiny vinyl being embraced by New York’s fashion designers looking to achieve the cutting-edge “wet look” of the ’60s.
Maureen Nimmo, director of the Lawrence Public Library, remembers her Lawrence childhood home being chock full of Bolta products, thanks to her father’s job with the company. In addition to the usual Bolta trays, combs and assorted dinnerware, Nimmo’s mother made clever use of Bolta’s bolder fabrics by whipping up outfits and beach bags. Although most of her Bolta items are long gone, she still has a large swatch of Bolta’s novelty vinyl imprinted with images of the Beatles.
The oil crisis of the 1970s proved tough on Bolta with both the skyrocketing cost of raw materials and an automotive industry looking for lighter-in-weight alternatives to Bolta fabrics. But a look back at mid-20th century Bolta easily brings to mind the line from the 1967 film “The Graduate:” “Plastics … there’s a great future in plastics.”