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History of the Paul Revere Heritage Site – Part 5: The Plymouth Rubber Company

The Plymouth Rubber company was founded in Stoughton, MA in 1896. Looking to expand, they purchased a plot of land at auction in 1909. It was a site along the north shore of the East Branch of the Neponset River that had, until a few years previously, been the home of the Paul Revere Copper Company. By 1911 their new factory, repurposing many of the site’s existing buildings, was in full operation.

Initially Plymouth rubber predominantly manufactured fabrics, shoe heels, and soles. After declaring bankruptcy and restructuring in 1922 they expanded into other goods, especially vinyl and rubber tapes.

They would eventually become the largest manufacturer of elastic rubber bands in the world. Over their many years of operation Plymouth Rubber also produced rubberized fabrics for things like mosquito tents and gas masks, as well as electrical tape for auto, electric, and telecommunications industries. By the 1980s they were the world’s leading producer of hockey tape.

The Plymouth Rubber Company’s greatest hour, however, was during World War II. The company was one of the country’s leading producers of the rubber soles and heels for soldiers’ boots during the war. For their efforts Plymouth Rubber received the Army/Navy “E” Award; this honor was presented to select companies during World War II whose production facilities achieved an “Excellence in Production” (“E”) of war equipment. To qualify for the award a company had to meet a long list of criteria which included: quality and quantity of production, overcoming obstacles, avoidance of work stoppages, maintaining fair work standards, industry training, and good health and safety of their workers. Only 4,283 of the roughly 85,000 companies (about 5%) involved in the war production effort received the “E” award.

After the war Plymouth Rubber continued to expand. At its height the company employed more than 1,000 people and occupied 540,000 square feet of office and manufacturing space. 

Other than a dispute that lead to a strike in 1985, which closed the factory for almost a year, the company was generally liked by both employees and the people of Canton. Over the decades the industry changed and left some companies like Plymouth Rubber behind. By the 2000s they employed less than 300 people and were struggling. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2007 and was bought out by a Spanish company. Though their production facility and main offices are now in Spain, they still maintain their American distribution center in Canton, though at a different site on the other side of town.

The site was purchased by Napleton Acquisitions, with the intent to build townhouses and condominiums; however, there were concerns that 200 years as a copper mill and then a rubber factory had irrevocably contaminated the land. Through extensive testing it was determined that the land was safe to build on.

After several years of intense negotiations, Napleton Acquisitions agreed to sell seven and donate two of the forty available acres. Using Community Preservation Act funds, the Town of Canton purchased the property which would allow the town to build the Paul Revere Heritage Park and renovate the two remaining buildings from the Revere era – the Draft Horse Barn and Copper Rolling Mill, both of which had suffered the effects of a century as part of a factory. In 2015, the Paul Revere Heritage Commission was appointed by the Canton Select Board and planning for the development of the historical site began.

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