Joseph Davol

Inducted: 2007
Born: 1837 - Died:

Joseph Davol, descendant of the William Davol who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony around 1640, was the son of Joseph Davol and Mary (Sanders) Davol. He was born in Warren in 1837, but the exact date of his birth is unknown. After early schooling in Warren, Joseph moved with his parents to Brooklyn, New York, where he attended secondary 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 woman 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 of his 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. In 1885, it became 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 enterprising 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. It was named for Eban Simmons, Davol’s grandfather-in-law, who had run a carpentry and planning company 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 and commercial and civic enterprises until his death on July 5, 1909, in his seventy-third year. He is buried at Swan Point Cemetery.

For the two decades following his death, his son Charles ran the continuously growing and expanding firm. Nearly a century and a half after its founding. Davol’s company survives and thrives in Warwick. His renovated Providence manufacturing complex was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. A portion of that facility has been acquired for educational use by an ever-expanding Brown University, ensuring its continued prominence as a Providence landmark. The site is now known as Davol Square.

For Further Reading:
Conley, Patrick T. The Leaders of Rhode Island’s Golden Age. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2019.

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