Joseph Davol

Joseph Davol, 1837-1909, was a pioneer in the rubber industry who, prior to incorporating the Davol Rubber Company in 1881, devoted much of his time to experimentation and invention in the processing of rubber. He was among the first to see the potential for rubber products in the fields of medicine and dentistry. He remained the President, Treasurer, and general manager of this major business enterprise until his death in 1909.

By Engraving from Memorial Encyclopedia of the State of Rhode Island, 1916. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Joseph Davol

Joseph Davol, a native of Warren, traced his ancestry to William Davol who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony around 1640. After early schooling in Warren, Joseph moved with his parents to Brooklyn, New York where he attended high school. At the age of sixteen he entered the employ of a wholesale dry goods business in New York City where he received successive promotions by exhibiting a talent for business. In 1862 Davol married Mary E. Turner, a women with deep Rhode Island roots. The couple raised two sons, George and Charles.

During the early 1870s Davol returned to Rhode Island and turned his attention to the newly-emergent rubber industry, foreseeing the great potential of this business. He devoted much time to product experimentation and patented several innovations. By 1874, the success of his research prompted him to open a small factory in Providence on the southerly side of Point Street in partnership with Emery Perkins. This firm, the Perkins Manufacturing Company, was taken over by Davol in 1878 and incorporated in 1882 as the Davol Manufacturing Company and in 1885 as the Davol Rubber Company.

With Joseph Davol as president, treasurer, and general manager, this firm filled an important niche in the rubber goods industry. The company produced an extensive and varied line of items, but it became especially renowned for the “fine” rubber goods it manufactured for the drug, surgical, dental, and stationery trades both in this country and worldwide.

During Davol’s tenure, his manufacturing enterprise expanded dramatically around the intersection of Point and Eddy streets into a complex of several large brick buildings. The earliest surviving structure built by Davol is the Simmons Building (1880) at the southwest corner of Point and Eddy named for Eban Simmons, David’s grandfather-in-law who had run a planing works on that site.

The meteoric rise of Davol’s business catapulted him into the ranks of Providence’s captains of industry. He became a director of several banks and was active in numerous local commercial and civic enterprises until his death on July 5, 1909 in his seventy-third year. For the next two decades his son Charles ran the continuously growing and expanding firm.

A century-and-a-third after its founding, Davol’s company survives and thrives and his renovated manufacturing complex, now on the National Register of Historic Places, has been acquired for educational use by an ever-expanding Brown University, ensuring its continued prominence as a Providence landmark.

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