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Why cotton became so important to the economy of old-time Phoenix


One of the "Five Cs" of Arizona is cotton, along with Copper, Cattle, Citrus, and Climate. And if you're like me, you can understand how valuable copper is, even cattle, citrus, and climate. But cotton always puzzled me. It made me wonder if somehow Arizona had been the tee-shirt capitol of the world? Or maybe towels? I had no idea that cotton was important for tires. Yes, tires. Rubber tires.

Time-travel with me back to when automobiles were just becoming popular, after the turn of the century. Of course, back then, just as now they ran on rubber tires, which wore out. In fact, our modern tires have much longer wear than a tire from, say, 1918. And our tires are reinforced with steel, as in "Steel-belted radial tires". But back then they were reinforced with cotton. Really.

In the early days of automotive tires, cotton was ridiculously expensive, which drove up the price of tires, and the cost of owning a car. The best cotton for tires came from the Middle East, and was called Egyptian Cotton. So the idea hit businesspeople in the US that they could save money by growing it locally. And the climate of Phoenix, Arizona turned out to be absolutely perfect for it.

And this is where it gets really interesting, and ties into modern-day Phoenix. And that's a company called Goodyear. Yes, the tire company. They invested heavily in seeing if the cotton that they needed could be grown in the Phoenix area, and it paid off, big time. Goodyear started growing cotton in an area that they called Goodyear, south of Chandler, and then bought up a bunch of land where Sun City is nowadays. After World War II, they moved to a community that is still known by the name of Goodyear, and that's where the name came from, and the connection to cotton.

Of course nowadays cotton isn't used for tires, but cotton still grows well in the Phoenix area, and is still a valuable crop. It reached its height of value during World War I when the demand for tires with cotton inside of them, skyrocketed. The cotton grown in the Phoenix area was called "Pima cotton", along with "Sarival Cotton" (Sarival is short for Salt River Valley, which is where Phoenix is). There's even a road in the west valley named Sarival.

Go go Goodyear! And cotton!

The Goodyear sign in 1968, I-17 and Grand Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona.

Image at the top of this post: The Arizona Egyptian Cotton Company in 1918, 5th Street and Buchanan, Phoenix, Arizona.

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