American Biltrite Inc. - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on American Biltrite Inc.

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Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts 02481-2097

History of American Biltrite Inc.

American Biltrite Inc. is a leading producer of adhesive-coated, pressure-sensitive papers and films, pressure-sensitive tapes and adhesive products, and floor coverings. The latter operations are conducted principally, and indirectly, through the company's 55 percent controlling stake in Mercerville, New Jersey-based Congoleum Corporation, one of North America's largest makers of resilient vinyl flooring for the residential and commercial markets. American Biltrite also controls nearly 95 percent of K&M Associates L.P., a national supplier of costume jewelry and related accessories based in Providence, Rhode Island.

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 and early 21st century. For the Marcus family, who continued to control American Biltrite into the 21st century, much was owed to the early efforts of their forefather, Miah Marcus, and his business associate, Frank Bernstein.

The First 50 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, when it extended its presence beyond U.S. borders for the first time and secured 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 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 Great Depression, and entered the 1940s, as the United States geared itself for the entry into World War II.

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 the war effort, supplying the armed forces with heels, soles, and raincoats.

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.

1960s Expansion

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, represented only 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 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 increased roughly 50 percent. Growth continued in the years following, making the 1960s as productive 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.

1982 Reorganization

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 spinoff, American Biltrite underwent several years of dramatic change. In June 1983, Marcus-led management steered American Biltrite in a new direction, acquiring a 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 Massachusetts, Missouri, and 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, 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.

Adding Congoleum in the 1990s

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. The original Congoleum company had a history dating back to Nairn Linoleum Co., which was founded in 1886. The Congoleum brand itself was introduced in 1924.

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.

A February 1995 public offering of Congoleum stock altered American Biltrite's relationship with that entity. American Biltrite continued to own 44 percent of the common stock of Congoleum but gained 57 percent of the voting shares, giving American Biltrite majority voting control. Prior to the offering, American Biltrite had been treating Congoleum as a joint venture, but with the offering it now consolidated the accounts of Congoleum with its own. Consequently, American Biltrite saw its revenues skyrocket from $106.1 million in 1994 to $404.5 million in 1995. Nearly 69 percent of overall revenues now stemmed from Congoleum. Also in 1995 American Biltrite gained majority control of K&M Associates, and with the purchase of an additional 11.75 percent stake in 1996, it held an 82.25 percent partnership interest in K&M by year-end 1996.

The following year, the two businesses that comprised the company's tape operations, Tape Products (Moorestown, New Jersey) and Ideal Tape (Lowell, Massachusetts), were combined into a new division called Tape Products/Ideal Division, which was based in Moorestown. The move was designed to promote greater efficiency and coordination among the various product lines, as well as to enhance profitability. After several years in the red, K&M returned to profitability in 1997 thanks in part to the addition of the entire Kmart chain to its list of customers and to the launch of a new line of products bearing the name of supermodel Kathy Ireland, which were initially distributed through about 500 Kmart stores. K&M now distributed its products to more than 3,900 stores.

From 1998 through 2000, overall revenues at American Biltrite were flat, despite steady increases in sales in the company's tape products, jewelry, and Canadian segments. At Congoleum, however, revenues fell from $258.3 million in 1998 to $226.3 million in 2000. There were a number of reasons for this decline, including a highly competitive pricing environment; a steady decline in the shipment of manufactured housing units, which constituted one of Congoleum's prime markets; and the increasing popularity of hard surface products, such as wood flooring. With the additional challenge of sharply rising raw material costs, Congoleum fell into the red in 2000. Results that year also reflected a $7.7 million special charge taken by Congoleum for a major change in national distributors, from L.D. Brinkman & Co. to Mohawk Industries. American Biltrite, therefore, reported that its earnings before income taxes and other items fell from $20.1 million in 1999 to $2.9 million in 2000.

Steps were being taken at the turn of the millennium to turn Congoleum's fortunes around. Responding to the rapid growth in the wood flooring category, Congoleum introduced a wood laminate line in 1999, and American Biltrite acquired Janus Flooring Corporation in October 2000 for C$4.5 million. Based in Toronto, Canada, Janus was a producer of prefinished solid hardwood flooring. Also in 2000, Congoleum made its largest introduction of new products in company history. With its tape products, jewelry, and Canadian segments performing well, American Biltrite faced a bright future in the early 21st century provided that Congoleum could be placed back on the right track.

Principal Subsidiaries:American Biltrite (Canada) Ltd.; American Biltrite Far East, Inc.; American Biltrite Sales Corporation; Majestic Jewelry, Inc.; Ocean State Jewelry, Inc.; Aimpar, Inc.; ABTRE, Inc.; Ideal Tape Co., Inc.; American Biltrite Intellectual Properties, Inc.; K & M Trading (H.K.) Limited (Hong Kong); Congoleum Corporation (55%); ABItalia, Inc.; Abimex, LLC; ABIcan, Ltd. (Canada); Janus Flooring Corporation (Canada).

Principal Divisions:Tape Products.

Principal Competitors:Armstrong Holdings, Inc.; Dal-Tile International Inc.; Shaw Industries, Inc.; Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company; Avery Dennison Corporation; Du Pont Kansai Automotive Coatings Co.; Ivex Packaging Corporation; R Tape Corporation; VPI, LLC; AAi FosterGrant; Monet Inc.; Victoria Creations Inc.; B.F. Goodrich Company; Biltrite Corporation; West America Rubber Company.


  • Key Dates:
  • 1908: Miah Marcus and Frank Bernstein found the Ewell Rubber Company, making rubber heels and soles for shoes.
  • 1913: A Canadian division is established.
  • 1917: Company expands into the production of rubber flooring.
  • 1951: Company changes its name to American Biltrite Rubber Company.
  • 1956: Boston Woven Hose & Rubber, maker of industrial rubber products, is acquired.
  • 1959: American Biltrite goes public.
  • 1961: Bonafide Mills, Inc., a maker of vinyl-asbestos and asphalt coverings, is acquired.
  • 1982: Company is split apart: Biltrite Corporation, controlled by the Bernstein family, takes over the domestic footwear operations; American Biltrite Inc., controlled by the Marcus family, takes over the floor covering, tape products, and Canadian businesses.
  • 1983: American Biltrite acquires 50 percent of K&M Associates, national supplier of costume jewelry.
  • 1986: Ideal Tape Co. is acquired.
  • 1993: Company's floor tile business is merged with the vinyl sheet flooring business of Congoleum Corporation; this new entity retains the Congoleum name yet is 44 percent owned by American Biltrite.
  • 1995: Congoleum completes an initial public offering of its stock, resulting in American Biltrite gaining majority voting control over Congoleum; American Biltrite gains majority control of K&M.
  • 2000: Janus Flooring Corporation, a Canadian producer of prefinished solid hardwood flooring, is acquired.

Additional Details

  • Public Company
  • Incorporated: 1954 as American Biltrite Rubber Company
  • Employees: 3,040
  • Sales: $420.37 million (2000)
  • Stock Exchanges: American
  • Ticker Symbol: ABL
  • NAIC: 326192 Resilient Floor Covering Manufacturing; 322222 Coated and Laminated Paper Manufacturing; 326299 All Other Rubber Product Manufacturing; 339914 Costume Jewelry and Novelty Manufacturing; 321918 Other Millwork (Including Flooring)

Further Reference

"American Biltrite," Rubber World, July 1986, p. 5."American Biltrite Board Clears Accord to Split Firm into Two 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.

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